With less than a month left in the regular season, the Montreal Canadiens are all but mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. The smell of post-season hockey will most likely be absent this spring in the city that bleeds bleu, blanc et rouge.
Naturally, fans and pundits have turned to the factors contributing to the team’s dramatic fall from glory. Whether the topic of debate surrounds the players, the coaching or the general manager, everyone is focusing their attention onto next season.
I am turning my attention to the players, and in particular, Max Pacioretty. To place this in context, I was engaged in a conversation about the first-year captain last week with a few guys from my hockey pool. Some felt that he should have never been named captain, while others felt the opposite. In reality, Pacioretty has been criticized this year for his inability to lead his team out of the never-ending slump, for his lack of emotionality (especially to the media), and for his offensive inconsistency.
When a team names a new captain, there is a certain learning curve that takes place before a captain is fully comfortable with the new role. Pacioretty, who is a great example of hard work and perseverance, was the best candidate to wear the “C” on his chest. The pressure of becoming the 29th captain of the most storied franchise in hockey was already high from the get-go. So, imagine having to deal with the additional pressure of having your team collapse in an almost unseen fashion. What’s happening to the Montreal Canadiens isn’t that common in sports. Yes, teams slump, but usually find a way out of it. With the team’s historic start, the majority of fans, media and others in hockey, all thought the Habs would get out of it in early December. I thought, “Better now than later on in the season. Let’s get it out of our system.” That logic faded quickly.
Could Pacioretty have responded better to his team’s downfall? Yes. The whole team should be held accountable for their current situation. However, the captain does carry more responsibility by virtue of being the team’s leader. That being said, as a first year captain, he has been faced with the toughest and most trying times this season. He is human; I don’t care if he is paid millions to play a game. Being placed in such a difficult situation in the pressure-cooker that is the city of Montreal, you have to give him a break. Could he, and should he, show more emotion? Maybe. But every captain has their own style. Take Saku Koivu. He wasn’t very vocal, but he led by example. He didn’t lead the team to a Stanley Cup, but to be fair, the Finn played on some very crappy Habs teams. Pacioretty will be a similar leader to Koivu because he will let his actions speak for themselves. P.K. Subban and others can fill in that vocal void.
Which leads me to my next point: leading by example. Pacioretty embodies hard work and perseverance, as previously said. However, he has been streaky this season. On some occasions, he was invisible on the ice and had a few pointless streaks. As a captain, you have to contribute in one way or another. In that sense, he is to be blamed for that. Nonetheless, he leads the team in points right now, with 52 points through 70 games, ranking second in goals and 4th in assists on the Habs. He definitely needs to work on consistency, but his contributions cannot be overlooked.
All in all, I think Pacioretty has room for improvement but he needs to be given some credit. He will become a great captain in the next few seasons. He is learning and, faced with an insane amount of adversity between injuries to key players to questionable coaching decisions, he has done a decent job. Of course, decent won’t cut it, but in a horrible season, decent is just fine.