MONTREAL - Max Pacioretty would have liked his second season as captain to have lasted much longer.
Expectations were raised for the Habs' No. 67 before he even arrived at training camp in September.
After sitting out the playoffs in his first season as the Canadiens' 29th captain, Pacioretty worked like a madman over the summer to ensure the same thing wouldn't happen again in 2016-17.
The sharpshooter arrived healthy at camp - unlike he had the previous year - after a brief trip to the World Cup, and had a better understanding of the kind of challenge that awaited him with the "C" stitched to his sweater. There were several new faces in the room, but there was one newcomer in particular he counted on to back him up - Shea Weber.
Captain of the Nashville Predators for six seasons, the towering defenseman had spoken highly of Pacioretty's leadership abilities on several occasions in the months leading up to camp. Weber's compliments didn't go unnoticed by his new teammate, who didn't really know the defenseman before his arrival in Montreal.
"Shea has played with a lot of the best players in the world. He's a huge part of this team and I've learned a lot from him this year," Pacioretty said of Weber, who was named assistant captain shortly after being acquired by the Canadiens. "He brings an experience we haven't really had in this room before and it means a lot to me to hear that from him."
While Pacioretty may still be evolving in his role as captain, the 28-year-old sniper's ability to find the back of the net no longer flies under the radar. Despite having somewhat of a quiet start to the season, Pacioretty still notched 35 goals, marking fourth-straight 30-plus goal campaign - and his fifth in the last six seasons.
Never one to take all the credit for his offensive prowess - which, this year, included tying his career high of 67 points - the eight-year NHL veteran spread the accolades around, notably to usual linemate Alexander Radulov.
It didn't take long for the chemistry to develop between the two crafty forwards, who were teamed up on a line just a few weeks after the season began. The Russian sniper could become a free agent on July 1, but Pacioretty hopes he'll be back in Montreal so the duo can continue what they started.
"I really enjoyed playing with Radu. He's completely different from what he was made out to be. He was a great teammate. As a linemate, I couldn't ask for anything more. He was working very hard, making great plays, and he was able to help me put the puck in the net, especially early on when it wasn't going my way," mentioned Pacioretty, who recorded his first four-goal, five-point night on December 10 against the Avalanche, with Radulov's help. "He was a big part of our team this year and we want him back."
Pacioretty's 189 regular-season goals make him the fourth-highest goal-scorer in the League since 2011-12 - placing him behind only Alexander Ovechkin (257), Steven Stamkos (202), and Joe Pavelski (192) in that span. But those impressive numbers haven't been able to shield him from criticism when it comes to playoff production.
Pacioretty acknowledges that he could have done more in his team's first-round defeat at the hands of the New York Rangers, and has made a point of not hiding from questions about his postseason performance. While there's no one more critical for his lack of production than the captain himself, Pacioretty has also learned to keep an even-keel during trying times over the years.
"Yeah, it is important to do everything you can to perform, but it's also important, mentally, to not let this affect you and get away from it all. I know I don't have the results to speak for in terms of goals in the playoffs," admitted Pacioretty, who collected only one assist in the six-game series against the Rangers. "I know all I'm really judged on is goals and wins; we're in a results business.
"One of the first things the coach said to me [after the elimination] was that there are things in my life that are much more important than hockey, and it's my family," he continued. "It's obvious that it's our job and we love what we do, and we put everything that we have into it. But at the end of the day, you just make yourself go crazy if it's all that's on your mind 24/7. I've learned how to step away from it all and you realize what's important in life."
Video: COL@MTL: Pacioretty pots four goals vs. the Avs
Pacioretty left Montreal for a few weeks with his wife, Katia, and their two sons to recharge the batteries, but he will be back in town to continue his summer training soon.
Knowing that expectations are elevated yet again heading into the 2017-18 campaign, the captain can't wait to get back to work so he can help write a better ending to next season's story.
"I'm motivated to come back, just as I am every year when we don't achieve our ultimate goal. I'll be ready to come back and I'll be ready to be a better player, a better teammate, a better captain. We saw how special it is to win games in the playoffs in this city and being able to bring happiness to people's lives," concluded Pacioretty. "We didn't see it last year, but we saw it this year. We plan on working as hard as we can to get better from this and achieve that next year."