Last season Pacioretty was given a sheltered role with David Desharnais and Erik Cole, but he played tougher minutes than the other two players on that line, taking more defensive zone faceoffs and slightly tougher competition. This season though, he's been given a much easier role, and far less relied upon.
His ice time has been cut by two and a half minutes per game at even strength, his offensive zone starts have jumped by an incredible 10 percent, and he's facing the 2nd easiest competition among Canadiens forwards.
With that change in usage, you would expect a more rested, more dominant Max Pacioretty. In some cases, that's what's happened. His possession numbers are by far the most impressive of any Habs forward, and one of the most impressive forwards in the NHL. His shot production is up over a shot per 60 over last season as well, which is crazy considering how much of a high volume shooter he already was.
You can see how dominant Pacioretty has been by looking at his 10 game rolling averages:
I've long been of the opinion that Pacioretty would be better off playing without Desharnais, and looking at this graphing of his usage, it seems like he's been wasted in such a one dimensional role. If Pacioretty is a 55% Fenwick player in tough minutes with Plekanec, is he giving more value than if he's a 60% Fenwick player in sheltered minutes with Desharnais? I think he would be.
One area that hasn't improved for Pacioretty is his scoring chance numbers. His differential is down by nearly one scoring chance per game, and his scoring chance production has dropped by over 5 scoring chances per 60 minutes of ice time. WIth Pacioretty's increased possession numbers, I'm sure his scoring chance production will eventually pick up, but for now it's been weaker than expected for the 24 year old sniper.
What hasn't been low though, is his production. Part of it is a very favourable on ice conversion rate, but Pacioretty is producing more points than he did last year, which is good news.
On the powerplay, Pacioretty has been a decidedly second unit player, although his production there has been better than it was last year by nearly 2 points per 60.
It's a difficult thing to evaluate Max Pacioretty, because he's hurt by his own previous dominance. We all expect great things from him, and he's playing in a role that he's probably too good to be playing. One of the results of this is that sometimes it looks like Pacioretty gets a little bit lazy. He's by far the best left winger the Canadiens have, so do you evaluate him as a 1st line left winger, or as an exploitation winger? Do you evaluate him based on what you know he can do, or based on how he performs his role in comparison to his peers? For consistency's sake, I think you have to evaluate him in his current role, against peers across the league, and in that evaluation, he's pretty incredible, but he has more to give.
First half grade: 9/10