SUNRISE – Max Pacioretty has always had terrific touch around the net. The Panthers likely knew that all along, but could do little to stop the power forward – and his linemates Thomas Vanek and David Desharnais – on Saturday night at the BB&T Center.
Pacioretty, who now boasts five goals in his past five games, torched Peter Horachek’s club by capping a pair of slick passing plays with re-directs that beat Panthers goaltender Dan Ellis, helping to pace the Canadiens to a 4-1 victory and their fifth straight win.
After setting a new career-high for goals in a single season with his 34th and 35th tallies of the year in South Florida, Pacioretty quickly pointed to the stellar work his trio has been able to accomplish as a cohesive unit in such a short amount of time together.
“Offensively, we’ve gotten more and more comfortable with each other. We’re starting to make plays based off instinct. That means that our chemistry is really building,” explained Pacioretty, who became just the fourth Canadiens player since 1995-96 to score 35 goals in a single season, joining Erik Cole, Vincent Damphousse and Pierre Turgeon on that list. “We want to clean up a few defensive plays that we had late in the game, but we can’t get too picky. We’ll take everything in stride and hope to get better every game.”
The two-time 30 goal-scorer, who now leads the Canadiens with 54 points on the season, has certainly reaped the benefits of an on-ice partnership that has paid immediate dividends for him personally, and more importantly, for the team as a whole during the ongoing stretch run. Playing clutch hockey at a key time of year, Pacioretty isn’t one to celebrate milestones with so much at stake in the coming weeks.
“Reaching those marks isn’t really that special. I’m trying to get better every year, and I think that every year my game has gotten better. Numbers come in bunches, and there’s some luck behind it as well,” stressed Pacioretty, whose line produced a combined seven points against the Panthers. “I got set up perfectly for both goals. As long as you help the team win, that’s the number one thing.”
One of those setups the left-winger was referencing started on the stick of Vanek, who, on the University of Michigan product’s second goal in the second period, drew two Panther players in his direction before finding Desharnais in the slot in prime position to feed a streaking Pacioretty. Needless to say, the American forward can’t offer up enough praise for what the Austrian has brought to the table for the Canadiens since arriving on the scene at the trade deadline in early March.
“I thought he was just a scorer when he came in, but he’s an unbelievable playmaker. Not only does he make the right plays, but he makes it easier on the guy he’s making the play towards,” emphasized Pacioretty, who admits frequent practices and constant communication have played an integral part in making the line click time and time again. “If he’s giving you the puck, he’s making sure he draws the defender to him so he takes that player away from you. He’s a really easy player to play with and we’ve found some good chemistry so far.”
While Pacioretty’s scoring prowess has always caught head coach Michel Therrien’s eye, the Canadiens bench boss insists the six-year NHL veteran’s unselfish gesture to close out Saturday night’s tilt is a good indication of why he means so much to this group.
“Max has a great attitude. The thing that impresses me the most is what he did on the last play of the game. He could’ve tried to score his third goal in an empty net, but he elected to give the puck to David Desharnais for the empty-netter,” cited Therrien. “Those small details tell you a lot about a person.”
Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.
The Numbers Game - March 29, 2014
Number cruncher – Record keepers
Ready and able