MONTREAL — A theme called "what’s wrong with Max Pacioretty" is revived every year and lasts until he ends up producing another 30-goal season.
The Montreal Canadiens captain is hearing it again. With only eight goals through 29 games, he’s well off pace for 30, let alone the 35 he scored last season.
The chorus reprised in the playoffs in April, when he was held to one assist in a six-game first round loss to the New York Rangers. And again of late, with only one goal in his last 11 games, which includes being the only forward without a point in a 10-1 win over Detroit on Dec. 2.
None of that worries coach Claude Julien.
"At the end of the day he does a lot of good things," Julien said Wednesday of Pacioretty. "He’s been great on the penalty kill and all that stuff.
"I know sometimes we look at goal scorers and, because they have X amount of goals every year, that’s what we’re looking at. He’s also a guy that, when pucks start going in for him, they come in bunches. So I would expect that to happen as well at some point."
His scoring drought hasn’t been a factor lately, as the Canadiens won five games in a row after goalie Carey Price returned from injury before falling 4-3 at home to St. Louis on Tuesday night. Price, who will start again against the Flames, has allowed only 10 goals in the last six games, while his teammates have scored 27 times.
Pacioretty was hearing it last season when he had only five goals in the first 24 games. Then he got seven in the next four, including four goals in a 10-1 win over Colorado.
But this season may be different.
Pacioretty, who tends to score from distance rather than in close despite his six-foot-two, 206-pound frame, said he is trying to adapt his game to the coaches’ wish for more puck possession in the attacking zone.
"I’m trying to hold the puck more, trying to create more myself," said Pacioretty. "The chances haven’t been there as much as I’d like but this is a completely different way to produce offence and hopefully I’m able to find that.
"But in terms of my game, I feel good. My hands are good. I feel I’m shooting well. I feel like I’m skating well. But the opportunities aren’t there. I’ll have to look at why, but my game is a lot different now and I have to find ways to create in that environment."
He still leads the team in shots on goal with 121 — 31 more than second-place Brendan Gallagher — and in ice time among forwards at 19:22.
One change is that Alexander Radulov is no longer on his right wing. The Russian, who signed as a free agent with Dallas after only one season in Montreal, produced a ton of attack zone time on his own with his ability hang onto the puck for long stretches.
Andrew Shaw is the new right-winger on the line with Pacioretty and centre Phillip Danault. The unit was formed after an earlier bid to find chemistry between Pacioretty and playmaker Jonathan Drouin fizzled.
"Last year I’d get it and I knew exactly what I wanted to do with it — I wanted to get it to 47 (Radulov) and try to find space," he said. "Now I want to hold the puck and create more offensive zone time.
"It’s a dimension to my game I’ve never really had. Hopefully I can find some offence through that."
Pacioretty, who has one more season left on a salary cap-friendly hit of US $4.5 million per season, broke through with 33 goals in 2011-12 and had 15 in 44 games of the lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign. Since then he has scored 39, 37, 30 and 35 goals.
Julien said there is a chance that Drouin will return against Calgary. He missed two games with a lower body injury and was out for Tuesday’s game with an illness.