Montreal Canadiens: Brett Kulak Quietly Excelling in Top Four Role On Habs Blue Line

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - MARCH 03: Brett Kulak of the Montreal Canadiens (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - MARCH 03: Brett Kulak of the Montreal Canadiens (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /
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Montreal Canadiens
TORONTO, ONTARIO – AUGUST 01: Brett Kulak #77 of the Montreal Canadiens. (Photo by Andre Ringuette/Freestyle Photo/Getty Images) /

Brett Kulak quietly regains confidence and excels in postseason

This leaves us with the final left defender who has played a prominent role for the Habs this season/play-ins: Brett Kulak. Kulak had a really impressive season in 2018-19 following his trade from the Calgary Flames which saw two AHL defenders go the other way. He not only established himself as an NHL player but as a player who did not look out of place in the top-4. He even chipped in a fair amount offensively, registering six goals and 17 points in 57 games. His future with the Habs looked bright and he was rewarded with a three-year contract averaging $1.85 million per season.

Unfortunately, he failed to replicate this level of play this season. He started the season on the third pairing with Cale Fleury and was exploited regularly as he cheated on his own duties to cover for his rookie teammate. He ended up being scratched from the lineup for 15 games as a result of disappointing performances. However, his play seemed to take a turn for the better when he was reunited with Jeff Petry, the defensive partner who brought out the solid performances in the past.

It must be said that Jeff Petry has a real knack for making his sub-standard defensive partners look really good, but I am not convinced that Brett Kulak is sub-standard. I believe that the primary reason for his heightened performance when playing with Jeff Petry is their excellent chemistry as a pairing rather than his being carried by #26 since Petry seems more comfortable playing with Kulak than either of the other two previously talked-about defencemen.

Brett Kulak has been a man on a mission these past two games against Sidney Crosby’s Penguins. He has not only made a real case for being a dependable second-pairing NHL defenseman when paired with Petry, but also that he doesn’t need to be carried by his defensive partner. That has been the big question during his time playing inside the top four with the Habs.

In the opening play-in game, Kulak stood out to me a little bit, in a very good way. He was snuffing out Penguin chances and seemed more willing to attack than he did at any point in the 2019-20 season – which saw him tally just 7 assists through 56 games. Of course, his defensive partner ended up being the OT hero, but Kulak played with a confidence I hadn’t seen in him for the past year.

But it was in the game 2 loss where Kulak exploded. In my mind, he was quite clearly the Habs’ second-best player of the night, with Carey Price being the best by a country mile. Kulak boxed out Sidney Crosby on most of his shifts, forcing the superstar to the periphery and not giving him the space that allowed the Penguin captain to score in the first period.

However, Kulak has always been above average defensively when paired with Petry, it is the offence that has left much to be desired since the signing of his 3-year extension. On Monday night, he was confident on the attack and proved to be a real threat, having been at the center of two of the Habs five best scoring opportunities.