Max Pacioretty’s season was a fantastic reminder that the concept of consistency in the NHL is not entirely realistic, especially when it’s used as a catch-all reason to describe why someone is struggling to score. There are few players that produce at a regular pace, and by most standards you could describe almost every NHL player as inconsistent, especially when it comes to scoring goals.
The Captain only managed to score two goals in the first 14 games, and the pressure was on from fans and media alike. There was no grace period given to the Habs’ best goal scorer. It was later revealed that Pacioretty’s scoring woes coincided with a broken foot.
For a franchise that struggles to score goals, you would assume an offensive talent such as Pacioretty would be considered a golden god in Montreal.
Since 2011, Pacioretty has scored 189 goals, placing him fourth in the NHL over that time frame. Only Joe Pavelski (192), Steven Stamkos (202), and Alex Ovechkin (257) have scored more goals. Once you filter for even-strength goals only, Pacioretty sits second, just one goal short of Ovechkin’s 143.
That’s right, Pacioretty has scored one less even-strength goal than arguably the best goal scorer in NHL history, in 750 fewer minutes of ice time. It’s also worth noting that Pacioretty reached such lofty heights without any semblance of a true number one centre throughout the years, and he didn’t sacrifice his defensive play to get there.
In the last six seasons Pacioretty’s most common centreman has been David Desharnais (x4), Tomas Plekanec, and Phillip Danault. Imagine what he could do with a real number one centre setting him up.
This year saw a shift in linemates for Pacioretty. The season started out with him playing six games with Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher. He then saw action during four games alongside Desharnais and Andrew Shaw, three games beside Tomas Plekanec and Gallagher, five with Phillip Danault and Shaw, and finally four more games with Plekanec and Gallagher. At the 30-game mark he was finally placed with the linemates that would stick throughout the year: Danault and Alex Radulov.
This combination yielded great results, and Pacioretty once again cracked the 30-goal plateau, earning 35 goals on the season. No one on the team came remotely close to matching his offensive output, given that Paul Byron’s 22 goals were second among all Habs players. His 67 points were far and away the best result on the team, with Radulov finishing 13 points behind.
His underlying numbers were fantastic as well, which to be expected from the best forward on the team. He had a 54.78 Corsi For%, 53.66 Expected Goals For %, 54.42 Scoring Chances For %, and a very impressive 57.84 Goals For %.
Out of the 223 goals scored by the Canadiens this season, Pacioretty participated directly in 30% of them, including seven game-winning markers.
Unfortunately his production dried up in the playoffs, but it was no fault of his own. Pacioretty doubled the next closest forward in terms of individual shot attempts, and the same phenomenon occurred when you take note of Pacioretty’s individual scoring chances (10). Andrew Shaw finished the playoffs with 5 chances, second on the team.
It was terrible timing for a lull in production, seeing as the Habs couldn’t buy a goal, but it was definitely not due to a lack of effort. Pacioretty was creating chances at a great rate, but simply couldn’t beat a red-hot Henrik Lundqvist.
With players like Montreal’s captain, a lot of the frustration arises due to perception. Pacioretty isn’t a player that will smash his opponents or dangle through three opposing players. He’s a volume shoot that doesn’t particularly look like he’s giving the most effort, because unlike some other players his hockey IQ and speed allow him to be ahead of the play. He can read the play incredibly well, and doesn’t need to waste energy during games catching up to the puck.
Pacioretty’s best weapon is his release, and he scores goals two ways: off the rush, or standing in a scoring area near the hashmarks. I would describe his game as working smartly, rather than looking busy.
Regardless of how we perceive Pacioretty, the numbers don’t lie. There’s no one in the organization over the last few decades that has come close to his goal production, and the same can be said about the entire NHL during the last five years, except for Ovechkin. Not to mention that Pacioretty did all of this with a mere $4.5M price tag, perhaps the best value contract in the modern history of the league.
To sum it up, in 2016-17 Max Pacioretty carried the Canadiens offensively, as is tradition in Montreal.
(all statistics via corsica.hockey)
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