New Canaan's Pacioretty leads Canadiens to top of NHL
Updated 7:44 pm, Wednesday, March 27, 2013
UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- The thought of being the leading scorer on one of the National Hockey League's best teams elicits the slightest of smiles from Max Pacioretty.
Thirty games into the lockout-shortened season, the 24-year-old left wing -- a New Canaan native -- is flourishing on the Montreal Canadiens' second line. Pacioretty leads the team in assists with 16 and is tied for third in goals with nine, behind center Tomas Plekanec (12) and right wing Brian Gionta (10).
Don't however, mistake Pacioretty's expression as a sign he's satisfied. He hasn't set a ceiling on his production.
"I just want to get better every day, whether it's points-wise or whether it's in my own end," Pacioretty said after Montreal's 5-2 win over the New York Islanders on Thursday. "I want to be a complete player."
With a plus-five rating (fourth-highest among the team's forwards), Pacioretty's play on both ends of the ice has sparked Montreal. At 20-5-5, the Canadiens lead the Northeast Division and sit second in the Eastern Conference, three points behind the Pittsburgh Penguins (24-8-0).
More InformationTHE MAX PACIORETTY FILE
Experience: Fifth season (age 24)
Birthplace: New Canaan
Goals (Team rank): 9 (T3rd)
Assists: 16 (1st)
Points: 25 (1st)
Plus/Minus: 5 (T6th)
Career Notes: Drafted 22nd overall in NHL Entry Draft by Montreal Canadiens ... Made NHL debut on Jan. 2, 2009 in 4-1 loss to New Jersey Devils ... Scored on first career shot in debut ... Limited to 37 games in 2010-11 after suffering concussion and fractured vertebrae on hit by Boston Bruins' Zdeno Chara ... Set career-highs for goals (33), assists (32) and points (65) in 2011-12 ... Won Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy for 2011-12 season, awarded to player who best exemplifies qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to sport ... Signed six-year, $27 million extension with Canadiens in Aug. 2012 ... Named NHL's first star on March 4, 2013 after recording four goals and three assists in three games.
"It's special. We've got a good group here," he said. "I'm having fun. I know my game can be a bit better. ... I'm not satisfied."
Pacioretty has played for much of this season on the same line with fourth-year center David Desharnais and rookie right wing Brendan Gallagher. The trio has thrived, collecting 26 goals with 51 points and a rating of plus-15.
Gallagher, who is second among NHL rookies in goals (nine) and third in points (18), spoke glowingly of Pacioretty's all-around abilities following another multi-point night.
"You see the way he skates, you see the way he shoots, he's up there with the best of them. He's great to play with," Gallagher said on Thursday. "He's a very competitive guy and wants to be on the ice every shift.
"He's makes it enjoyable to be with and we're just trying to use him as much as we can."
With the Canadiens knotted 2-2 in the second period with the Islanders, head coach Michel Therrien momentarily broke up the second line. When they returned together in the third, reignited, they sparked the Canadiens. Pacioretty assisted goals 33 seconds apart -- one by defenseman P.K. Subban at 10:10 and another by Gallagher at 10:43.
"They responded well," Therrien said.
Limited to just 37 games in 2011 after suffering a concussion and fractured vertebrae on a hit by Boston defenseman Zdeno Chara, Pacioretty set career-highs last year with 33 goals and 32 assists in 79 games.
He's developed a strong rapport with his linemates in a short time. And the results haven't slipped.
"We have great chemistry. We love playing together," Pacioretty said. "We've had great success. It's fun to help the team win, and we're doing that now."
"It helps when you're playing with a guy like that. He draws a lot of attention from opposing d-men and for me, it opens up space," Gallagher said. "We just try to get him the puck as much as we can."
More times than not, the Canadiens' fortunes have turned for the better when Pacioretty's had the puck. His shot, as the rookie explains, is rare.
"I've never seen a guy shoot like that," Gallagher said. "He's got a lot of things that he does well, but to me, the thing that stands out most is the way he shoots the puck."
After finishing at the bottom of the Eastern Conference a year ago with 78 points (31-35-16), the Canadiens are now perhaps the league's hottest team. They're 14-1-4 in their last 19 heading into Saturday's game against the Buffalo Sabres.
"It's good," Pacioretty said of the Canadiens' recent streak. "But it's pretty unbelievable to see, you look at the standings and we're not even in first place after something like that. There's a lot of good teams out there. ... We know we have a lot of work to do."
The 6-foot-2, 219-pound Pacioretty has been particularly productive of late, recording points in eight of the team's last 12 contests. He was named the NHL's first star of the week on March 4 after scoring four goals and three assists in three games from Feb. 27 to March 3. The fifth-year wing still, however, thinks he can be more consistent.
"I've got to use my size and my speed a lot more," he said. "When I do, I help the team. When I get away from that, I find myself struggling."
Pacioretty's teammates know the forward will do everything to improve.
"His work ethic off the ice is pretty impressive," Gallagher said. "We know every year, every time he comes back he's going to be up there in top shape on our whole team. He's going to improve his game every year."
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