TORONTO -- It may have been a sign of things to come when it was pointed out to Max Pacioretty that his likeness in EA Sports' new NHL 15 is wearing the captain's "C," and the Montreal Canadiens left wing smiled when he was asked if he knows something that has not yet been shared with the rest of the hockey world.
"No, I don't know anything," Pacioretty said Thursday after participating in EA Sports' Motion Capture Display. "But I believe somebody at EA Sports should be in line for a promotion."
Left Wing - MTL
GOALS: 39 | ASST: 21 | PTS: 60
SOG: 270 | +/-: 8
The fact is the Canadiens are in the market for a captain since Brian Gionta, their captain the past four seasons, signed a three-year contract with the Buffalo Sabres on July 1.
The Canadiens whipped their typically emotional fans into frenzy last season when they bounced the Tampa Bay Lightning from the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs in four games and then eliminated the Boston Bruins in seven. Things turned sour in the Eastern Conference Final, however, when Montreal was beaten in six games by the New York Rangers.
Pacioretty got to experience the worship Montreal fans heap on their team in good times and the scorn they receive when things go off the rail.
"It was amazing," Pacioretty said of his team's playoff run. "The first five minutes of each game were unbelievable. I think about that every day, the energy in the rink and the fact we got off to a lot of good starts because of that energy in the rink and the energy in the city. Obviously it was a bit of an emotional letdown when we fell a little bit short, but there are things to improve on and build off from last year."
It wasn't just fans who were frustrated by Montreal's inability to beat the New York. Former Canadiens superstar Guy Lafleur pointed the finger directly at Pacioretty, who had five goals and 11 points in 17 playoff games, and wing Thomas Vanek, who had five goals and 10 points, as the reason the team lost. Vanek signed with the Minnesota Wild as an unrestricted free agent this summer.
"You can't keep guys like Vanek and Pacioretty on the team," Lafleur told La Presse. "They should stay home if they're not willing to pay the price. Your team won't win with players like that who disappear under adversity."
Tough words from the player who helped the Canadiens win the Stanley Cup five times in his Hall of Fame career.
"It just comes with the territory," Pacioretty said of Lafleur's comments. "Obviously when we lost you want to ask questions about why we lost, but I've only played two full years in the League and I'm just trying to improve each year."
Pacioretty clearly has taken his game to the next level in the past two seasons during which he has become a player the Canadiens leaned on for goals. Two years ago he had 15 goals in the 44-game schedule which, in a full 82-game season, would have translated to 39 goals. Last season in 73 games, he scored a career-best 39 goals. He has started to think of himself as a goal-scorer.
"I definitely do now," Pacioretty said. "Especially with the role I play on my team. It's funny, but through my childhood and through high school and college I was never a goal-scorer. I was always the set-up man. Then I came to Montreal and started playing with guys who told me I have to use my shot more. A couple of coaches said the same thing. I developed some routines for improving my shot and working on my goal-scoring and it has helped a lot."
Pacioretty said he does not intend to analyze and assess his game based solely on his goal production, but he believes he is capable of scoring at a similar or slightly increased pace. He said he believes if he improves in other areas of his game, the numbers will take care of themselves.
The Canadiens made significant changes in the offseason, including the departures of veterans Gionta, Vanek and Josh Gorges. That means some of the younger players, including Pacioretty, P.K. Subban and Carey Price, are going to need to step up their leadership.
"The success of our team is going to be based around our leadership and how our leadership takes control of the team," Pacioretty said. "Obviously we lost a lot of leaders on our team and now there's a lot of room for people to step up. I feel it is very important part of a team and a lot of us younger veterans have to step up now.
"It is an honor to be considered one of the leaders on the team now."