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Pacioretty growing into role as captain of Canadiens

by Arpon Basu /

BROSSARD, Quebec -- When Max Pacioretty was named captain of the Montreal Canadiens at the start of training camp, he became emotional.

He wiped a tear from his eye at his introductory news conference and made it clear just how much the position meant to him.

Shortly after, the Canadiens went out and had the best start to a season in team history, and have a League-best 13-2-1 record when they play the Pittsburgh Penguins (9-5-0) in this week's Wednesday Night Rivalry game (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, RDS).

Not a bad way to start out a captaincy.

If you ask his teammates or coach Michel Therrien, they don't see much of a change in Pacioretty wearing the letter on his chest.

"He's stayed the same," center David Desharnais said. "You should never change what got you there, and I think that's what he's doing. He's always been a leader, but he's emotional as well.

That's what you need and he's a good example for everyone to follow."

"He doesn't have to change," Therrien added. "First of all it's a privilege to be the captain of the Montreal Canadiens, and I haven't seen any difference regarding the way he's acting with his teammates or with the team."

But as well as everything is going for the Canadiens, Pacioretty admits he has tried to change somewhat as captain and that he is still growing into the role.

"I'm thinking a lot more before I act or before I speak, and that's great off the ice and away from the game," Pacioretty said. "But on the ice I have to do a little bit less thinking and just kind of get back to reacting. Sometimes I think I get caught up in stuff that I feel I have to control, but all I have to do is worry about my game when I'm on the ice.

"If I just play my best and let my actions speak for themselves, that's the best way I can lead. Sometimes I get caught getting away from that, but that's all part of the learning process. I didn't expect everything to be perfect at first."

Pacioretty has eight goals and six assists in 16 games coming off an offseason leg injury which almost delayed his start to the season. It's been a great start, but it also included a five-game pointless streak that showcased one of Pacioretty's vulnerabilities: He is his own worst critic.

Following a 2-1 overtime loss to the Ottawa Senators on Nov. 3 where he had a giveaway that led to the winning goal, Pacioretty held a brief session with the media before retreating to the private area of the Canadiens dressing room. Once he was out of sight, Pacioretty very audibly expressed his frustration over how he played.

It has always been Pacioretty's way, but it might have been one aspect of his personality he would want to change as captain.

"I'm a psychopath," Pacioretty said with a big smile. "My wife thinks I'm absolutely nuts. I'm never satisfied with anything. I mean in terms of hockey; obviously I'm satisfied with my wife and family. But as far as hockey I'm never satisfied with anything.

"It's a bit of a problem, but I think it's also what's gotten me this far."

Pacioretty says it is not the numbers or lack of production that can bother him, but the idea that he is letting his teammates down. But his teammates look at the way Pacioretty carries himself and rarely feel disappointed in their captain.

"He's as hard on himself as anyone else," his linemate Brendan Gallagher said. "He expects himself to score. But he doesn't let it change his game, that's the most important thing. As bad as you want to score goals all the time, it's the hardest league in the world and you're not always going to be able to score. So if you can't, do other things. He gets out on the penalty kill, he creates chances that way.

"He puts those expectations on himself but he doesn't change his game. That's one of the reasons we picked him as a captain."

Another thing that his teammates and coach admire is Pacioretty's evolution into a true 200-foot player, one as responsible in his own end as he is dangerous at the other.

Pacioretty has been on the ice for five even strength goals against this season despite being second among Canadiens forwards to his center Tomas Plekanec in even strength ice time. Last season Pacioretty tied for the NHL lead with a plus-38 rating, and he is among the League-leaders again this season at plus-10.

"I think the last few years, you look at how few goals he's on for, it's pretty impressive," Gallagher said. "He's expected to score, but he doesn't cheat. He plays the game the right way. We always talk about how it's not always about scoring goals, there's other ways to contribute. Most people will always look to that and when you're not scoring it's tough to remember, but there's other ways to contribute to a team's success."

The ability to adapt and not waver from his responsibilities is put into the spotlight in Montreal, where Therrien preaches a team concept where every player is expected to contribute and follow the same game plan, no matter how much money they make or how many All-Star teams they have made.

Pacioretty is a shining example of that credo, and it is what makes him an ideal captain for the Canadiens.

Still, that title, and the team he holds it with, carries a lot of weight for Pacioretty, a burden he is still learning to manage at this early stage of his first season wearing that 'C 'on his jersey.

"It is really hard, but that's what makes it so special," Pacioretty said. "If it was easy it would just be a letter on your jersey. But it's not easy, and I love that part of it."

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