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Max Pacioretty keeps scoring goals for Canadiens

Montreal captain not letting distractions stop him from doing what he does best

by Arpon Basu @ArponBasu / Senior Managing Editor

BROSSARD, Quebec -- Max Pacioretty sat back and smiled.

When told he would be read a list of all the manufactured controversies that have surrounded him since he was named the 29th captain of the Montreal Canadiens on Sept. 18, 2015, an admittedly long list, Pacioretty did not get upset.

He got curious.

He wanted to hear it, see how many there actually were, and see if he'd forgotten any.

He wanted the actual list for himself.

"I can hang it in my [dressing room] stall if you give it to me," Pacioretty said with a laugh. "Some extra motivation."

There was a glare he gave former teammate P.K. Subban in the dressing room that wound up on the front page of the newspaper. Or the trade of Subban to the Nashville Predators and how that meant the Canadiens were siding with Pacioretty in their supposed feud that didn't actually exist. Or the story of coach Michel Therrien telling some friends during the summer that Pacioretty was the worst captain in Canadiens history. Or Team USA coach John Tortorella giving a frank assessment of Pacioretty's play during the World Cup of Hockey 2016, which really meant Tortorella hated him.

That's just a fraction of the list. But Pacioretty is able to laugh it off and continue doing what he does, which is score goals. Lots of goals.

Video: NYR@MTL: Pacioretty buries go-ahead goal on breakaway

"It makes me a lot tougher," Pacioretty said of the constant white noise that surrounds him. "People probably look at that stuff and say, 'You shouldn't have to deal with that,' or, 'That's a negative part of Montreal.' But there's so much good that comes out of the situation that I'm in and that our team's in that it completely outweighs the negative."

Pacioretty enters the Canadiens' game against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Bell Centre in Montreal on Wednesday (7:30 p.m. ET; SN1, SNE, SNO, SNP, RDS, ROOT, NHL.TV) with a team-leading 20 goals, overcoming a slow start with an offensive flurry during the past two months.

He scored his third goal of the season against the Detroit Red Wings on Nov. 12, in his 15th game. At the time, talk was rampant in Montreal that Pacioretty was slowing down, that he lacked his trademark explosiveness, and at age 28 that his career might be starting to decline.

Instead, that game marked the beginning of his current run of 17 goals in 30 games. He heated up when the Canadiens needed him most, just before a rash of injuries hit, starting with No 1 center Alex Galchenyuk on Dec. 4.

Since that Red Wings game the Canadiens are 11-1-1 when Pacioretty scores a goal and 4-10-4 when he doesn't. Overall this season, Pacioretty has 18 goals, 15 assists and a plus-20 rating in the Canadiens' 27 wins, and two goals, two assists and a minus-13 rating in 18 losses.

As Pacioretty goes, so go the Canadiens. And Pacioretty is going very well.

"The last two months he's been phenomenal with us," Therrien said. "He's playing with passion and he's certainly a leader for us. This is what you ask [of] your leadership group. They show the way and the rest, they're going to follow."

Pacioretty's qualities as a leader were a source of great debate last season.

Video: MTL@TOR: Pacioretty slips one home through traffic

When he was introduced as captain, Pacioretty openly wept. That is how much it meant for him to take his place among the legends who have worn the C on their Canadiens jersey in the past.

Then the Canadiens got off to the best start in their history, goaltender Carey Price was injured and they had the biggest collapse in their history, missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs and triggering the offseason changes that led to Subban being traded to the Nashville Predators for defenseman Shea Weber, among other moves.

Pacioretty still scored 30 goals last season and has 141 since the start of the 2012-13 season, fifth-most in the NHL in that span, behind Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals (207), Joe Pavelski of the San Jose Sharks (147), Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning (142) and Sidney Crosby of the Penguins (142).

Still, Pacioretty is not mentioned often in discussions of the League's top goal-scorers, but he said he has no problem with that. It is in part based on how the Canadiens flopped under his leadership last season and how he feels responsible for it.

"I think a lot of times individual success is based off team success and I know last year was my first year being captain and we kind of fell right on our faces," Pacioretty said. "As a player I feel like I can be judged on that, and that's fair given that I should be the leader of this team."

That is a glimpse of how hard Pacioretty can be on himself, a part of his personality that he has worked to improve, but likely never will go away.

Pacioretty credits his parents, Ray and Annette, for helping him become a more positive thinker during their regular conversations throughout the season, especially when controversy hits, as it inevitably does in Montreal.

But what has helped the most in that regard is becoming a father three years ago.

"At the end of the day, look at the life we have, look where we're playing," Pacioretty said. "I love playing here so much, and the fact I'm able to be the captain here, it sounds cheesy, but what's better in life right now? I've got a family, I've got an awesome team, I'm the captain of the best franchise in the world.

"Just have fun doing it. And I do have fun."

Video: Pacioretty sets Habs' OT goal record

That fun often comes on Sundays, when Pacioretty usually is able to take his sons, Enzo, 3, and Max Jr., 1 1/2, to the Canadiens practice facility for a little skate. Last Sunday the Canadiens held a rare practice, but Pacioretty still took his sons to the rink and took them on the ice beforehand, giving Enzo a chance to play a little game of pass with Price, his hero.

"He's just obsessed with [Price]," Pacioretty said that day. "I can't wait to go talk to him. He played with [Price] for a bit and he'll be talking about it forever."

Those Sundays with his boys, skating on the ice where he works, brings Pacioretty a sense of peace. It is somewhat ironic, considering the pitfalls of being captain of the Canadiens often play out in that same building. But skating around alone with his boys allows him to remember what is important and what isn't.

That white noise that often surrounds Pacioretty is filtered out by the sounds of two young boys playing the game their father loves so much. It is a reminder of why he fell in love with it in the first place, and just how lucky he is to be in the position he is in, as captain of the most prolific club in the history of the NHL.

"Before I go to a game and I'm playing hockey with my kid and I hear my kid act like he's me and he's scoring a goal and he celebrates saying, 'Pacioretty scores!' I mean, why do I ever get down on myself? It's just amazing," Pacioretty said. "I want to go out there and score for my kids and have them re-enact it at home later.

"That's what life's all about."

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