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Five Questions: Canadiens' Pacioretty on skid, Classic

by Arpon Basu's Q&A feature called "Five Questions With …" runs every Tuesday. We talk to key figures in the game and ask them questions to gain insight into their lives, careers and the latest news.

The latest is a Winter Classic edition featuring Montreal Canadiens captain Max Pacioretty:

Max Pacioretty never expected his first season as captain of the Montreal Canadiens to be a smooth ride.

It's fair to assume he never expected it to be this turbulent, either.

In his first season as captain, Pacioretty has had to serve as a team spokesman on a variety of unpleasant issues, starting right in training camp when Zack Kassian was in a car accident, continuing when goaltender Carey Price was injured and then re-injured, to going through the worst stretch of losses in Pacioretty's career with the Canadiens.

His predecessor, Brian Gionta, did not have to navigate through as much negative attention in his four seasons combined wearing the captain's "C" as Pacioretty has had to handle in three months.

The Canadiens suddenly couldn't score and couldn't stop their opponents from scoring. Pacioretty was expected to have all the answers as to why that was the case.

Following a loss at the Dallas Stars on Dec. 19, Pacioretty let the frustration over his inability to answer those questions boil over, using profanity to express how each loss resembles the previous one.

But it was a momentary blip on the radar for Pacioretty, who has handled his new role admirably in the face of a media storm in Montreal, one that began very positively when the Canadiens started the season with nine straight wins and has since flipped to the opposite end of the spectrum.

It could be too much for a new captain, but Pacioretty says the letter on his jersey has taught him the most important lesson in hockey, one that coaches repeat every day but which can be difficult for a player to adhere to.

"Every game is a new challenge," he said. "Being even keel is a huge thing moving forward, and if everyone can learn that lesson it will make our team a lot better."

Pacioretty spoke about what it has been like to go through this difficult stretch amid the spotlight of the 2016 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic against the Boston Bruins on Friday (1 p.m. ET; NBC, SN, TVA Sports), how the captaincy has changed how critical he can be of his own game and how the loss of Price is providing some added motivation for the Canadiens.

Here are five questions with … Max Pacioretty:

You guys have had the eyes of the League on you for the last month, what's it been like going through what is probably the worst spell you've experienced here with the added attention on you?

"I genuinely feel like it could be a blessing in disguise if we handle this the right way. You win nine in a row and you've never heard such nice things being said about you, but when you lose nine of 10 you've never heard such bad things being said. That's important, and in this League and in this market even more so because you have to find a way to stay even keel. When you're winning, you don't want to; you want to feel great about yourself. But maybe this can be a lesson to us that if we're going to fight to stay even keel when we're losing, we have to find a way to do the same when we're winning. When we get out of this, that's the mentality we've got to have."

At the beginning of this season, yourself and a couple of your teammates were saying how you wanted to show everyone that you're not just about Carey Price, then you did that. But now you hit this skid, and everyone says, 'Oh look.' How does that make you feel?

"Everyone will say that and we have to realize that. We took a lot of pride in saying that we're not a one-man team, and now that people are going to say that regardless because we've been losing a lot of games without Carey, we kind of have to swallow that and swallow our pride and not worry about that and play the right way. We still feel that way; we're not just a one-man team. Pucks haven't been going in, but earlier in the year we saw what we were capable of doing offensively. If we're able to put up those numbers, then we don't need a goalie to stand on his head every night. But we haven't done that. We haven't supported our goalies enough at all, we haven't contributed offensively. We're relying on our goalies right now to steal games, and that's not fair."

Yourself personally, you've been through a bit of an unproductive stretch even though you've put tons of pucks on net. You've gone through this before, and you've admitted you sometimes struggle with the internal pressure you put on yourself. How have you been dealing with this?

"I'm not struggling with it right now. I've learned from this. I'm in a different position than I ever have been in the past and what my team needs right now is for me to help the team win games. Most of the time that help comes on the scoresheet and contributing offensively, and in most of these games that's where we've lacked and where I've lacked. But we know how we play and we know the chances we get, we see how many chances we're responsible for and vice versa. I know that the process has been put in place and that there's maybe five percent extra I need to bear down to make it go in. It would be one thing if I wasn't getting chances, but that's not the case right now. At the end of the day we need to win games, and I need to be a leader and help the team win games. I don't have time to worry about my confidence, I have to help the team."

Has being the captain now made you change your outlook on that?

"I think so. People always ask me if it would be too much pressure, and if anything I think for my game it's less pressure because I've got to know it's not about my numbers, it's about the wins. That's always been the case, but it's even more so now. I take it personally when we lose, and going through this stretch I've obviously been pretty upset and very frustrated at times. But I also know that what my team needs is for me to play my best and that's the only way I'm going to get out of it and we're going to get out of it."

The Winter Classic is the biggest stage in the NHL. How do you see this opportunity, especially considering what you guys have been going through?

"That's a big stage and people are going to have their opinions about our team and the way we play. We've got to get some confidence going before that and hopefully going into that game it would be nice to show the world what we're capable of and the way we're capable of playing. People who don't watch our games are going to assume we're a one-player team, but if you look at 5-on-5 scoring chances, you look at shots and offense generated, and we've been up there every game. To not have the results is definitely frustrating, but we want to show people what we're capable of doing and that is definitely the main stage to do so."

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