MONTREAL – Max Pacioretty lit the lamp at a torrid pace in 2013-14, but the 25-year-old insists his sixth NHL campaign was about much more than making his mark on the scoresheet.
Despite setting a new career-high with 39 goals – including 11 game winners – while collecting a team-high 60 points this season, garnering more responsibility on the defensive side of the puck and becoming a more complete two-way player is what Pacioretty looks back on with pride and excitement.
“I don’t like to judge my game based off of numbers. This year I made a lot of steps in the right direction in terms of helping the team. I started penalty killing and I started playing a bit of a role defensively at the end of games. I think that’s the most rewarding thing,” shared the New Canaan, CT native, who logged nearly 77 shorthanded minutes in 2013-14 after logging just 4:32 on the penalty kill a year earlier.
That’s not to say that Pacioretty wasn’t pleased with his penchant for terrorizing opposing netminders time and again en route to leading the Habs in points for a third straight season. If anything, it provided the University of Michigan product with plenty of confidence heading into the longest playoff run of his career, registering five goals – two of which were series-clinchers – and 11 points in 17 postseason games.
“Being able to put up numbers [in the playoffs] is a good feeling because a lot of people judge your game off of that,” explained Pacioretty, who led the Canadiens with 55 shots this spring. “The coaches and I base it off other areas of the game, though, and I feel like I contributed in other areas this year, too.”
The 2012 Bill Masterton Trophy winner successfully rounded out his game while negotiating the rigors of a condensed schedule that included a trip to Sochi in February to represent Team USA for the first time in Olympic competition.
“This year was very physically demanding on me personally with the Olympics and the travel involved. It seemed like a shortened season a bit because of the Olympics. I’ve gotten better over the years in terms of learning to handle my body and getting used to the grueling schedule,” noted Pacioretty, who unfortunately returned from Russia empty-handed after dropping a 5-0 decision to Finland in the bronze medal game on Feb. 22.
“I think next year things might feel a bit easier with the NHL games spread out more,” added the two-time 30-plus goal scorer, whose team boasted a 25-1-2 record during the regular season when he found the back of the net. “Hopefully we can take advantage of that.”
While no one would have blamed Pacioretty for slowing down after making the painstakingly long trek back to North America, the power forward did the exact opposite, with a little help from trade deadline acquisition Thomas Vanek on a line that also featured centerman David Desharnais.
“Thomas really helped me out in terms of thinking the game offensively. He’s had a lot of success in this league. He knows how to put up numbers. A lot of it comes down to his mindset. I liked picking his brain a bit and hopefully some of the things I learned from him can stick,” said Pacioretty, who put up 13 goals and 23 points in the final 23 games of the regular season.
“We talked a lot. He’s a leader and a veteran. He knew the right things to say and how he had to react when he joined the team to make sure we had success,” he shared. “We had good chemistry when we played together.”
While that particular chemistry didn’t necessarily extend into the playoffs, Pacioretty prefers to look at the bigger picture after the Canadiens came within two wins of securing a berth in the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 1993.
“The future looks really good. We had a lot of young guys step up. It was probably the most meaningful playoffs in Montreal in a couple of years. It was my first real playoff experience, and it was the same thing for a couple of the younger guys,” mentioned Pacioretty. “We found out as a group what it takes to be a winner. Looking back at that Boston series, we were able to overcome adversity and come back against a very strong team. I think it’s going to help us in the long run.”
Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.
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