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Pacioretty tries to paint a pretty picture

Stubbs: Montreal captain hoping new faces develop into future Canadiens

by Dave Stubbs @dave_stubbs / NHL.com Columnist

MONTREAL -- Surely it was the largest Montreal Canadiens team photo ever taken -- 31 players, 53 people including ownership, management, coaches and team support staff.

In the early autumn, when the Canadiens assembled on Bell Centre ice for the season's marketing-use group photo, 23 players took their places with 22 others.

"Hopefully, they didn't get a deal on frames. They've got to get some bigger ones for [the picture Monday]," Max Pacioretty joked after practice, the Canadiens captain having taken his place front row center.

The Canadiens' injury rate and roster turnover has been no laughing matter this season. And as Montreal prepares for its final 13 games of 2015-16, beginning Tuesday at home against the wonderful story that is the Florida Panthers (7:30 p.m. ET; FS-F, RDS, SNE, NHL.TV), a team photo illustrated how much has changed this snake-bit campaign.

The Canadiens' second team portrait is shot annually after the NHL Trade Deadline. It will replace the giant photo that is displayed outside the dressing room and be used by them in various ways as their official portrait.

On Monday, the numerous farm-team call-ups were shuffled onto the mid-ice bleachers, no one having imagined that some of these faces would be skating for the Canadiens at this late stage of the season and grinning for the mid-March camera. The only absentee was general manager Marc Bergevin, who was in Boca Raton, Fla., at the NHL's GM meetings; he'll be digitally inserted into the photo.

"This might be the greatest day of Darren Dietz's life," someone cracked of the 22-year-old defenseman who lumbered onto a photo riser with exactly one game of NHL service, 13:01 skated Saturday against the Minnesota Wild.

Video: Smile! Canadiens team photo

Pacioretty grinned about the size of this "class photo," saying it's the largest one he's been a part of in or out of sport.

"We've taken a lot of pictures in our lives," he said. "I think it was weirder when I was 18 years old and was star struck going out there. But as you get older and the years go on, you get ready for anything. 

"We have a lot of new faces in here but no matter who we [dress], we have to play the same way and have the same attitude. Hopefully, all those players can help the depth of this organization for a long time."

This has been a remarkable season on every level for Pacioretty, who arrived at training camp after having spent the summer recovering from a knee he reduced to rubble while training in Florida.

The day before camp opened, teammates elected him the 29th captain in Canadiens history. His team sprinted out of the blocks with nine consecutive victories, fueling the fires of enthusiasm in fans who saw their heroes go two rounds into the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season, three rounds the season before.

And then the wheels fell off and the axles snapped in the form of injuries to cornerstone goaltender Carey Price and sparkplug forward Brendan Gallagher, with a series of others forced from the lineup or playing through considerable discomfort, and a variety of breakdowns happening all over the rink.

The Canadiens' skid was an ugly bit of business, and now they are all but mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, 13 games remaining with little left to play for but pride and, in some cases, jobs next season.

"At the beginning of this year, it looked like we'd never have a call-up," Pacioretty said. "Next thing you know, it seems like we're calling up someone new [daily].

"The window of opportunity for making it [in the NHL] shuts pretty quickly. If you can come up and show what you're made of, and help the depth of this organization, force them to make decisions, that's all you can worry about. You can't worry about the results. It's all about the process in this situation. Hopefully, a lot of people learn a lot and gain a lot of experience from this."

Pacioretty has forever taken the fortunes of his team personally, especially through the lean times. There's been barely a shred of meat on the bones of the Canadiens since December, when Price was down with a lower-body injury and the season began to resemble a snowball accelerating downhill.

Video: Max Pacioretty on leadership

With so many new faces on the roster now, kids from St. John's of the American Hockey League are being given a chance to show their stuff in the season's waning days, Pacioretty considers his role in the dressing room both as captain and a veteran of 468 games who's in his eighth NHL season.

"People think there's a lot more to being captain than there actually is," he said. "I'm not a babysitter. I'm not here to control people or change the way people play or act. It's more of lead by example. Obviously, I have to have relationships with everyone in this organization and [that's] important. But I'm not a teacher or a coach."

It is his job, Pacioretty said, to "show the guys who are coming up now why this team has had success the past couple of years. And that goes for everybody in this room who's been here for a couple of years, the core group of guys. We have to show why it's special to be here and make sure they want to be here.

"Everybody has their own personal reasons to try to improve and get some momentum for the end of this year going into next year, whether it's the way you're playing, or who you're playing with, or making an impression on the coach, or even free-agents looking to make impressions around the league. Everybody has something to play for, no matter what."

For Pacioretty, a solid final 13 games, played with the same intensity as if the Canadiens were locked into and sharpening for the playoffs, is what these final weeks are all about.

Canadiens fans are now not so much steeped in the traditions of the team's past glory as hungering for a competitive club, one that in recent years has almost teased them with encouraging performance.

"My biggest motivation is for the fans," Pacioretty said. "Through this [bad] stretch, they've really been supporting us. … They've been supportive through this whole thing and realize this has been a very tough year and a lot of it has been out of our control. It's been really nice to see the great support we've got at the Bell Centre and we want to keep that up. They know that we're working hard. You can't deny that.

"We made a pact in this room that, no matter what, we're going to stand up for each other and we're going to work hard."

Pacioretty, and everyone else in this organization, knows that a strong finish would be a good snapshot of a season that's gone south, one that Monday was frozen by a team photo of record proportions.

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