It would’ve likely meant a goal — Pacioretty’s second in his last 12 games — and an extra point in the standings instead of a 3-2 overtime loss to the Calgary Flames. It would’ve been well earned in what might have been Pacioretty’s best game in three weeks.
The Canadiens weren’t too bad, either.
“Close game, could go either way,” said Pacioretty afterwards.
He was right. The puck was on the tip of his stick in the slot when it slipped to linemate Phillip Danault and eventually got turned over a minute into the extra frame. Pacioretty got on his horse to race back into the play and catch up to Flames defenceman T.J. Brodie, who was driving the net on a 2-on-1 with the Flames’ most dangerous player in possession of the puck.
That’s when Johnny Gaudreau pulled up, used Brodie as the decoy and made a perfect pass to Sean Monahan, who had slipped away from Danault’s coverage and roofed the puck by Carey Price on his team’s 37th shot of the game.
“At the end of the day, those guys — even if you don’t see them much — they don’t need much to make something happen,” said Canadiens coach Claude Julien about Gaudreau and Monahan, who were held largely in check between goals that bookended one for teammate Garnet Hathaway.
“That’s what you saw tonight from those guys,” added Julien. “They still managed to get a couple of goals and it wasn’t because they dominated against the players they were playing. When they got an opportunity they made the most of it.”
It would be purely factual — and nothing else — to say Pacioretty didn’t make the most of his. It wasn’t for lack of effort or even lack of confidence that the puck didn’t find the back of the net on the two shots he was limited to.
It was in the third that Pacioretty caught Brodie flatfooted, dipped his shoulder, cut straight to the net and was stymied by Rittich again.
He generated five other shot attempts, ran over Mark Giordano at the offensive blue line, came up big on the penalty kill — which went a perfect 4-for-4 — and did everything the right way in this game.
And Pacioretty had no interest in talking about himself after it.
Who could blame him? It was less than 24 hours earlier that he had held court for 15 minutes with reporters, talking at length about the measures he was taking to improve his game; talking about how in the absence of linemate Alexander Radulov (who left to sign with the Dalllas Stars this past summer), he felt it imperative to assume some different responsibilities and apply what he had learned from that player.
And fans roasted Pacioretty on social media, roasted him on the airways, and found it altogether perplexing that he would devote any time to trying to expand his repertoire.
“You’re trying to wear down the defence so they make a mistake, and I keep going back to it, but Radu is probably the best puck protector I’ve ever seen,” Pacioretty said after practice Wednesday. “He’s probably the best in the world at it.
“You want to wear down the defence, but once you do and you get that step on someone you want to have that poise to make a play,” Pacioretty said. “That’s what I’m trying to add to my game. That’s never been there. Watch all my goals, you’ve never seen me play like that.”
But you saw it in Thursday’s game, when Pacioretty deked a defender, turned the jets on and held the puck coming down the right wing in the second period before making the game 2-1 Canadiens by gifting Danault a goal with a perfect backhand pass to tip home.
“Really like his effort,” said Danault. “We know we’ve had a hard time making points recently, but as a team it’s been very good. So we gotta focus on that. I thought Patch played very good tonight and obviously had a great pass, but we lost the point.”
But it’s of no consolation to Pacioretty, who’s stuck on eight goals after 30 games and is well off the 30-plus pace he’s established year after year.
Julien’s not disappointed.
“He played well. He competed well,” the coach said. “He made the play on the second goal and everything else. I think tonight, penalty killing, everything else. You know when you look at games today, we talk about scoring; last night in Toronto both goals until the shootout were by defencemen (by Giordano and by Leafs defenceman Morgan Reilly). All the goals the other night here (in the 4-3 Canadiens loss to St. Louis) were by defencemen. Guys are doing a good job in front of the net at screening and making those things happen.
“So if [Pacioretty’s] not going to score as much as we’re used to seeing him score, we expect him to do those other things — which he’s doing right now. You hope that the goals will come for him and all he’s gotta do is keep working.”
A good break would help Pacioretty, and the Canadiens, too.