MONTREAL – After struggling to find the back of the net of late, the Canadiens’ offense went from anemic to explosive against Minnesota.
Since the beginning of the season, Michel Therrien has stressed to his team he believes it takes three goals to win a hockey game. The Habs decided to play it safe and double their coach’s estimate on Tuesday night.
While all four lines factored in on the scoresheet, the biggest goal of the game was the one that swung the floodgates open in the second period. Snapping an eight-game scoring slump with a fortuitous bounce off his skate, Max Pacioretty’s third goal of the season may not have been his prettiest, but it served its purpose to remind the sniper he hadn’t lost his scoring touch overnight.
“I’ve missed a lot of good opportunities lately and it started getting in my head that I couldn’t score,” admitted Pacioretty, who fired a career-high 10 shots on goal against the Wild. “It’s definitely a monkey off the back. After the first [period], I felt snake bitten just like I have since my injury. The first one went off my skate and in, but you take them as they come.”
More than doubling his goal output for the season in just over a 10-minute span in the second period, Pacioretty was in vintage form on Tuesday alongside David Desharnais. Reconnecting with his longtime set-up artist to score the second hat trick of his NHL career, Pacioretty was happy to find himself back banging home perfect no-look feeds from a familiar source.
“Me and Davey both had a lot to prove. Davey’s taken way too much criticism and he’s such a good hockey player,” stressed Pacioretty, who turns 25 on Wednesday. “Everybody loves playing with him and you can see why. He’s always looking to set someone up and he’s always looking to create space. He probably wasn’t trusting himself and following his instincts and I think he let that all go tonight.
“We talked [before the game] and said let’s just forget everything,” he added. “We know we can play together. Those passes he gave me probably weren’t something he would’ve tried because he was in his own head before. He’s just got to trust his gut and trust his instincts and that’s what he did on those passes. You can’t get set up better than that.”
Coming away with their largest goal haul of the season against the second-stingiest defense in the league, the Canadiens didn’t light up an easy opponent. The only team to beat Wild netminder Josh Harding three times in a game this year, the Habs are looking to keep the red light illuminated for the foreseeable future.
“It helps the confidence, that’s for sure,” offered Desharnais, who earned second star honors with his two-point performance. “The last few games have been good, but at the same time, the stats are what they are. If you get chances, but you don’t score, it’s not the same.
“Max and I have been playing together for four years; I know where he’s going to be on the ice,” he continued of his former Hamilton Bulldogs linemate. “I’m going to try things with him that I wouldn’t try with someone else, but I know he’ll be there and if I get him the puck, he’s probably going to put it in.”
Desharnais’ confidence in his longtime trigger man’s ability to finish may not have wavered, but for Pacioretty, the 34-goal campaign he enjoyed in 2011-12 was beginning to feel like a lifetime ago. Just two years removed from becoming the first American-born Hab to score 30 goals in a season, the New Canaan, CT native was having a tough time shaking off his latest slump.
“When you’re not scoring, you doubt yourself. I was doubting myself more than I ever have in my life,” he confessed. “Playing in this city, it’s a little harder when you’re in a slump like that. You don’t feel like you’re just letting the team down when you’re not producing; you feel like you’re letting the city down.”
His first goal of the night helped get the monkey off his back and his second helped him build a little momentum, but the third goal was the one that mattered most to Pacioretty. Game-winners tend have that effect on people.
Shauna Denis is a writer for canadiens.com
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