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Canadiens' Pacioretty letting game come naturally

by Shawn Roarke / NHL.com

NHL.com continues its preview of the 2014-15 season, which will include in-depth looks at all 30 teams throughout September.

NEW YORK -- Montreal Canadiens left wing Max Pacioretty has stopped thinking.

Contrary to what he has been told for much of his life, he believes lack of forethought, in this particular case, will be for the better.

“I tend to overthink things," Pacioretty said. "I've had a couple of coaches tell me to just turn off my brain out there; don't think. Whenever I think that I have to score a goal to change a game, I have to get this many points or whatever, I never have success.

"When I just worry about the process and doing the right things, the results end up taking care of themselves. It sounds so cliché, but for me it really is on point with how I have had success."

Pacioretty says the shift in thought process -- or, more accurately the lack of thought process -- has evolved during the past several years. Last season, it certainly paid dividends as Pacioretty scored a career-high 39 goals.

He believes he has another career year in him as well after taking a summer off from the game and mentally recharging in the wake of the longest year of hockey in his life. Pacioretty played 73 regular-season games with the Canadiens and then appeared in 17 more in the Stanley Cup Playoffs as the Canadiens made a surprise run to the Eastern Conference Final. He also traveled to Russia in February to play five games with the United States at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

After 95 games of physical and mental wear and tear, Pacioretty was grateful for the opportunity to shut off his mind and rejuvenate his body.

He retreated to his summer home in Florida, threw his hockey bag in the corner for a bit and concentrated on becoming whole again. He stared at the ocean, he played basketball with friends. He enjoyed his summer vacation when he could.

A fitness freak now, Pacioretty still hit the gym on a regular basis to make sure the foundation for the new season was being properly developed. He also played a lot of tennis and had the perfect partner in his wife, Katia, a professional tennis player. Pacioretty believes regular tennis workouts are perfect for hockey training because of the rapid sprints the game induces, similar to the quick accelerations and decelerations which are part and parcel of top-level hockey.

"She whips up on me pretty good in tennis, but I make sure she turns it into a workout by letting me compete," he says, laughing.

Hitting the ice in the summer, though, is now a non-starter. He doesn't even like to think about hockey until the calendar turns to August.

"I just go down there and work out and have family time and follow some other sports," he said. "Once the season rolls around, I go back up there and I am completely dialed in. I'm kind of a person of extremes, and that is a perfect example of it."

Pacioretty, 25, is entering his seventh season with the Canadiens. He is serving in a defined leadership role as one of four alternate captains Montreal will use this year to replace Brian Gionta, who signed a free-agent contract with the Buffalo Sabres. He no longer worries about a place with the team.

Now he worries about how he can be the best possible player when he is most needed, allowing for the later on-ice starting date as well as significant alterations to the intensity he applies to offseason training.

Though Pacioretty's body feels good under his new regimen, his mind feels even better.

"It's important to feel good physically, but you look at the mental side of the thing; the mental stamina that is involved in hockey … you are putting a lot of stress on yourself mentally," he said. "I think just being away from it all really energized me in terms of I was just stress-free all summer. You can't do that in your second or third year in the League. I think you have to do everything you can to come into camp ready to go right from Day 1."

"Now I'll be able to use camp to make sure I am in that tip-top game shape. I think it is a different approach than I have had in the past, but hopefully it can pay off by Game 70 and feel refreshed in the playoffs."

It is all part of a less-is-more attitude that has invaded Pacioretty's thinking during the past several years.

It is no secret Pacioretty would often go into prolonged scoring slumps because he would be too hard on himself mentally. The fishbowl Montreal can be never helped in the process either.

"Instead of going out there and saying I have to score this game, you just worry about playing shift after shift, doing the right thing," Pacioretty said. "And then, when you are in a scoring spree and you get hot, you never say, 'Oh, I have to score this game,' because you have put together a good little run and you just worry about playing well."

"It just shows that mindset can be the difference between being a great player and just an average player. The great players have figured that out. I'm still getting better at it, but I hope to keep getting better at it."

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