MONTREAL – Carey Price was once again under siege, but came out on top thanks to abundant goal support from one Max Pacioretty.
Despite being outshot 44-29 by John Tortorella’s troops, the outcome of the game was never in doubt for the Canadiens, who played their final game at the Bell Centre before the Olympic break.
With fellow Team USA nominee Ryan Kesler in the box, Max Pacioretty opened the scoring late in the first period by tipping home a P.K. Subban point shot. This was a clear positive sign for the Habs, as the team boasts an impressive 82% winning percentage when scoring first in the 2013-14 season.
“We’re really comfortable playing with a lead, and our guys get a lot of confidence when we can get an early goal,” acknowledged Carey Price, who turned away all 12 Vancouver shots in the opening period.
Just over a minute after Pacioretty potted his team-leading 24th goal of the year, Ryan White took advantage of a goal-mouth scramble to backhand the puck over an outstretched Roberto Luongo. It would be the first goal in nearly a year for the hard-working Manitoban, who returned to active duty earlier in the week after missing 14 games with an upper-body injury. Drawing an assist on the goal was newly acquired foreward Dale Weise, a Winnipeg native and one of White’s nemeses when both men played peewee hockey growing up in Manitoba.
“White’s playing well since he got back, but I liked the way he played before, too,” offered coach Michel Therrien when asked about the gritty forward’s contributions on and off the scoresheet. “He’s taking a bigger responsibility and playing well five-on-five. He brought a lot of energy to the team and we saw that once again tonight.”
Former Canadien Chris Higgins scored on the powerplay early in the second period to bring the Canucks within one, but Max Pacioretty once again stole the show by making history midway through the period. On two occasions, the fleet-footed winger was hauled down while breaking in all alone against Luongo. With the referee pointing to center ice on both infractions, Pacioretty became only the second NHLer to take more than one penalty shot attempts in the same game, and the first to do so in the same period.
“I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do, actually. There are a few moves I work on in practice, but it’s different in a game situation,” revealed Pacioretty, who missed high and wide with a snap shot on his first try and saw his backhand move denied by Luongo on his second attempt. Despite taking three career penalty shots against the Canucks netminder, the sniper is still looking to break through against the former Stanley Cup finalist.
“I was a bit lost on the second shot. I just couldn’t believe it was really happening. Maybe I thought a bit too much,” chuckled Pacioretty. “It’s a little embarrassing, getting two chances and not scoring on either shots.”
One player with full belief in the offensive prowess of the 25 year-old is teammate Carey Price, who has a chance to face the sharp-shooter’s wrister on a daily basis at practice.
“Pacioretty’s obviously an elite player in this league. His skating ability is first-class and that puts him above most other players in the league. His ability to shoot in-stride is excellent as well,” Price, a fellow first-time Olympian, described.
Fortunately for number 67, he would soon get a chance to redeem himself. With Brendan Gallagher forechecking hard, David Desharnais corralled the puck behind the Vancouver net, carried the disk into the slot, and dished off to a wide-open Pacioretty. This time, he made no mistake.
“David made an incredible play. I could have played better personally, but I had success tonight thanks to my teammates,” said Pacioretty, who would add an empty-net goal in the dying minutes of the game to complete his second career hat trick at the Bell Centre.
“I think there were maybe six hats on the ice. Maybe the fans are angry after me or something. I could go and buy some more hats for them to throw next time,” joked Pacioretty.
In any case, as long as Max Pacioretty can drive the lane and direct the puck on net six time in sixty minutes, as he did against the Canucks, that time may come sooner rather than later.
Jack Han is a writer for canadiens.com.
Highlights: Canadiens vs Canucks
The Numbers Game – February 6, 2014
Olympic outlook: Max Pacioretty