Max Pacioretty’s Highlights of the Year: The captain shows off his footwork

Pacioretty had two goals on January 19 versus the Washington Capitals, but it was a play he made without his stick that was more impressive.

Two very different teams faced off at the Capital One Arena on January 19, 2018. The Montreal Canadiens had only two wins to their credit in the last 10 matches, including two losses to the Boston Bruins in their last three games. The Washington Capitals, on the other hand, were somewhat unexpectedly atop the Metropolitan Division standings, sitting four points ahead of the New Jersey Devils.

On paper, this was a mismatch to say the least, and into this maelstrom the Habs threw Antti Niemi — still looking for his first victory with his third club of 2017-18 — against the likes of Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom.

After two periods, the teams were deadlocked at one goal apiece, and it was the Canadiens driving play. However, after two failed power plays in the first half of the third period, it looked like the Habs would repeat an oft-observed pattern in their season: start strong, fail to put the opponent away, falter late.

Just past the halfway point of the final frame, Max Pacioretty chased down a soft dump-in in the Washington zone. Surrounded by Dmitry Orlov and Matt Niskanen and forced behind Philipp Grubauer’s net, it looked like the best Pacioretty could do was stall for time. Instead, the Canadiens’ captain spun off an attempted Niskanen check, sending Orlov tumbling into the boards via his own momentum.

Alone with the puck behind the net, Pacioretty started a play by finding Jordie Benn at the left point before the Washington players had a chance to set. Benn found Jakub Jerabek in space at the right point for a one-timer, and the Czech rookie unleashed a shot toward what would become his future team.

The presence of Orlov, having recovered from his trip to the end boards, meant Jerabek shot wide. The ricochet took the puck behind the net and toward Pacioretty, who was now tangled up with Niskanen. By fluke or by skill (given his season luck, we’ll go with the latter), Pacioretty turned his skate just as the puck arrived, directing it out into the slot as opposed to the corner.

Mr. Puck, meet Mr. Byron.

50:41 Paul Byron (Max Pacioretty and Jakub Jerabek), 2-1 Montreal Canadiens.

Pacioretty would finish the night with three points, having scored the Habs’ first goal of the night on the power play and being awarded the eventual game-winner after being hauled down with an empty net.

To someone looking at the scoresheet afterward, Pacioretty’s brace would overshadow a simple assist. But this play was the product of the captain using his feet, firstly to hustle and create a play out of nothing, and secondly to set up Byron in the slot with a yawning 4’x6’, giving the Habs a lead that they would not relinquish.

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