Understanding the offence: How Max Pacioretty scores his goals

A breakdown of Pacioretty’s 67 goals over the past two seasons.

Max Pacioretty is the best goal-scorer the Montreal Canadiens have had in quite some time. Despite that, there is some talk of his totals being deceiving, relying on teammates and scoring easy goals to get his numbers to where they are. Some of us thought that he would break the 40-goal mark after coming just one short of that plateau in 2013-14, and he has yet to hit that milestone.

In this article, I break down the 67 goals he has scored since the start of the 2014-15 season into several categories in various contexts. What are the ingredients that make him successful? Let's see how his goals have been split.

Venues and team strength

Venue Situation
Home Away ES PP SH Other
2014-15 21 (57%) 16 (43%) 24 (65%) 6 (16%) 3 (8%) 4 (11%)
2015-16 18 (60%) 12 (40%) 17 (57%) 7 (23%) 1 (3%) 5 (17%)
Totals 39 (58%) 28 (42%) 41 (61%) 13 (19%) 4 (6%) 9 (13%)

Like many players, Pacioretty scores significantly more goals at home than on the road. Over the last two seasons, he’s scored a total of 13 goals on the power play (not counting ones scored in empty-net situations for either team).


Context Goals
Pressure* 19 (28%)
No pressure* 48 (72%)
Breakaway 8 (12%)
2-on-1 5 (7%)
Empty net 7 (10%)
Powerplay 13 (19%)

*Pressure is defined as being covered within a stick’s distance by  an opposing player.

I presented some examples of situations where a player normally faces less defensive pressure. The vast majority of Pacioretty’s goals come when he is given lots of free space.


Left side Right side Centre Slot/crease Other
2014-15 10 (27%) 14 (38%) 3 (8%) 9 (24%) 1 (3%)
2015-16 3 (10%) 11 (36.7%) 9 (30%) 7 (23%) 0 (0%)
Totals 13 (19%) 25 (37%) 16 (24%) 12 (18%) 1 (2%)

The difference between the slot/the crease and a shot from the centre of the offensive zone is the distance. Between the two faceoff circles and further out than 10 ft, it's a centre shot. Below that, it's the crease or the slot.

The first thing that jumps out is that Pacioretty scores a lot from the right side. You  might be inclined to say that’s normal because of the off-side one-timer. What is the most surprising is the goals that were scored from the left side in 2014-15 seem to have shifted to the centre last year.

Type of shot

Wrist Snap One-timer Backhand Deflection Other
2014-15 11 (30%) 9 (24%) 5 (17%) 1 (3%) 8 (22%) 3 (8%)
2015-16 13 (43%) 8 (27%) 2 (7%) 2 (7%) 4 (13%) 1 (3%)
Totals 24 (36%) 17 (25%) 7 (10%) 3 (4%) 12 (18%) 4 (6%)

This part is a bit subjective. It's sometimes hard to differentiate between a snap and a wrist shot, and a wrist shot versus just pushing it toward the goal in a scrum, but it does give a good indication that he prefers the wrist shot, with a snap shot being his number-two option. Interestingly, despite his great shot, he's not a one-timer guy, so that doesn’t explain all his goals from his off-side. We can also see that something was different from one season to another. That can be partially explained by looking at the different centres he’s had.


Desharnais Plekanec Galchenyuk
2014-15 697:21 (66%) 212:02 (20%) 147:50 (14%)
2015-16 196:42 (20%) 557:03 (55%) 252:53 (25%)
Totals 894:03 (43%) 769:05 (37%) 400:43 (19%)

In 2014-15, Pacioretty played a lot of minutes with David Desharnais, and relatively few with Tomas Plekanec. Last year, Pacioretty played the least with Desharnais as he took on a more two-dimensional role with Plekanec.

Using just goals, these are small sample sizes. The exercise should be done again by analyzing the shots and scoring chances to get a larger pool of data. That would give a good idea of what kind of  situation Pacioretty is the more efficient. We could check out his shooting percentage from different areas, as well.


Let's try to get some conclusions out of our meagre numbers.

No matter who he plays with, Pacioretty scores more goals on his off-wing. Playing with someone that forces him to play the left side to battle for pucks would not only limit his offensive chances, but put him in a poor position to capitalize on them when they do materialize. That's why Gallagher is SO important for him and his injury might explain the offensive slump in term of goal last year.

He’s also a great offensive player at even strength. He ranks 14th among NHL forwards in five-on-five goals scored over the past two seasons.

Pacioretty is an elite forward. He may not get all his goals from the slot, and he can maybe be tagged as peripheral player by that very strict definition, but he's good at playing that type of game. He gets rid of his check to put himself just out of reach and into a position where he can unleash a shot that’s good enough to beat NHL goaltenders from distance, and that is talent in its own right.

Blasphemous suggestions

The Canadiens’ power play has been awful. We as fans can blame our poor strategy and setup, but maybe Pacioretty should not play on the first wave. I know that he is the captain, and I'm sure he wants to score the important goals. However, he needs time to release his shot, and that time is more than enough for teams to adjust on the penalty kill when they have a single-minded directive to prevent shots on goal.

Because of his relatively low one-timing ability, he isn't a good option for a trigger man, especially compared to Alex Galchenyuk and what we saw him achieve in the final months of the previous season.

Breakaways and two-on-ones occur significantly less often than power-play chances, yet Pacioretty has scored just as many goals on those types of chances as he has with the other team forced to play at least one man short.

The transition situations of two-on-ones and breakaways are normally created from turnovers, and that highlights Pacioretty’s true skill as a top-end, two-way winger. He gets possession from the other team, skates it the other way with lots of room to set up an offensive play, and then uses his quick hands to convert it into a goal. He is a key ingredient to Michel Therrien system and success: Dman clearing the puck out of the zone by the board or with stretch pass that Max Pacioretty can exploit very well.

A final note

Just for fun, here are the teams against which he has had the most success the last two years.

vs. Team Goals
Toronto Maple Leafs 6
Columbus Blue Jackets 6
Boston Bruins 6
Ottawa Senators 5
Detroit Red Wings 4
Tampa Bay Lightning 4
Pittsburgh Penguins 4
Carolina Hurricanes 4

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