Max Pacioretty sticks to game plan in the face of criticism

Habs captain Max Pacioretty discusses the team's Winter Classic win over the Bruins, including the performances of Brendan Gallagher and Mike Condon.

Max Pacioretty understands that heavy scrutiny comes with the territory when you’re the captain of the Montreal Canadiens.

He also understands that it can be impossible at times to tune it all out and sometimes help is needed to block out the noise.

Criticism is nothing new to the three-time 30-goal scorer. After all, his biggest critic might be himself.

Still, that doesn’t mean what others are saying doesn’t occasionally get to the 27-year-old winger.

“Sometimes when you get thrown off with questions after a game, you get a feel for how other people are talking about how you played, and that’s when it can get frustrating,” Pacioretty told Sportsnet in an interview Monday. “I care most about how my teammates and how the coaches feel I’m playing.”

Not to mention the people in the seats.

“At the end of the day, you want to make the fans happy,” he explained. “They pay a lot of money to go to these games.”

In recent years, some of Pacioretty’s critics have been harder than others to ignore.

Take Canadiens great Guy Lafleur for example, who said this following the team’s defeat in the 2014 Eastern Conference Final:

“Your team will never win with players like (Pacioretty) who fade when confronted by adversity,” said Lafleur.

Lafleur said this despite the fact Pacioretty had rebounded from a broken neck in 2011 to register career highs in goals (33) and assists (32).

But perhaps Lafleur was also referring to Pacioretty’s pointless series against Ottawa in 2013, albeit one in which Pacioretty had sustained a separated shoulder in Game 1.

Other critical narratives around Pacioretty’s game have focused on the idea that he doesn’t drive the net enough, or that he lacks a killer instinct.

One critique Pacorietty takes particular issue with is the idea that he’d rather play on the perimeter than in higher-danger areas of the ice where linemate Brendan Gallagher makes his living.

Pacioretty says his positioning in the offensive zone is by design.

“Sometimes the best way to get open is just stopping,” he explained. “I learned that from a guy like Mike Cammalleri. He’d read defencemen. They’d look behind their shoulders and he’d fake like he was going hard to the net. They’d keep going, but he would just stop. That’s how he got wide open.”

It’s also how some of the greatest goal scorers in history—players like Mario Lemieux and Brett Hull—found similar dead space to shoot from.

“It doesn’t look like you’re working as hard as you can; it doesn’t look like you’ve got that battle that everyone wants to see or you’re falling all over the ice, but you’re wide open,” said Pacioretty.

Helping the honest and sometimes sensitive Pacioretty tune out the noise is a large support group including his father Raymond, his mother Ana and his wife Katia.

And then there is David Scott, the Canadiens’ sports psychologist, someone Pacioretty credits with ensuring his glass remains half full.

“I’m not saying he needs to talk me off ledges or do special mental games or tricks with me,” said Pacioretty. “But he’s just a guy to talk to who’s really positive.”

The Canadiens season couldn’t have started on a more positive note with nine straight wins out of the gate. Pacioretty scored seven times over that opening stretch of games, but found the back of the net only once in the following nine—perhaps as a result of missed training time over the summer thanks to the fractured left tibia he suffered in July.

It’s an excuse Pacioretty refuses to make, while at the same time acknowledging the relationship between off-season training and in-season endurance.

“The season is so long,” he explained. “You could feel good and run off adrenaline, but the reason we work out in the summer is so we can feel as good for as many of the 82 games as possible.

“Looking at the schedule, I feel like this is a month where I can get back to 100 per cent. Not making an excuse at all; I still have to be as good as I can for every game. Obviously, the critics and the people who watch the game can tell when I’m a step behind as opposed to my natural self, but there are still a lot of other areas where the game is played.”

Areas that Pacioretty, and not necessarily his critics, prefers to focus on.

“We know our scoring chances, we know the amount of positive and negative plays we’re involved in in a game, and those are very good indicators of how you played,” he said.

“I have to be honest with myself. I feel like I’m very honest with myself, I know how I play.”

As for the heavy scrutiny that comes with being captain of the Canadiens, Pacioretty can live with it.

“You’re not always going to win with everyone,” he said. “Everyone will find a problem with something you do.”