by Blain Potvin, Staff Writer, All Habs Hockey Magazine

(Photo by Francois Lacasse/NHLI via Getty Images)

Many have questioned Max Pacioretty this season. His play has been the target of fans who have questioned his desire, level of talent, and leadership abilities.

Back in November, during a low point in his play, many were publicly calling for him to be traded. If the Canadiens were to trade team captain Max Pacioretty, how could the Canadiens get equal value of a consistent 30-plus goal scorer while making a cap-friendly $4.5 million? More to the point, why would a team competing for top spot in their division decide to trade such a valuable commodity?

Once it became known he was playing a month with a broken foot, the voices became silent for some time. Thankfully, Pacioretty recovered, and what kept the critics silent was becoming one of the hottest scorers in the NHL. He completed the season with yet another 30-plus goal season, and tied his career high in points at 67.

One man can’t do everything on his own. Leadership must be done by committee. Leadership is to inspire groups to direct their energies, and to sacrifice towards a common goal. Having other voices from like-minded individuals is a necessity in any endeavour. Even great leaders make errors, but what makes them great is how they learn, how they listen to those around them, and how they respond to those errors.

Last season was a disaster in nearly every sense. The team’s leadership core was questioned. Yet, with the return of a healthy Carey Price and the addition of Shea Weber, a top shutdown defender who has a respected voice around the league, the Canadiens were capable of returning to form, and took the Atlantic Division title, holding the division lead for all but 20 hours.

Pacioretty has also demonstrated he is willing, and able, to play through pain. This was demonstrated when he played through the pain of a broken foot, and numerous other lesser injuries. At all times, he has been a contributor defensively. He is a mainstay on the penalty kill and trusted to play in all situations.

As a real leader does, when he makes an error, he owns up to it. After game four against the Rangers, a game in which his blown coverage at the blueline led to the game winning goal, Pacioretty said, “It wasn’t my best. But it’s one game at a time, looking to get better”. He will need to do better, as will the rest of his teammates to be able to win against a desperate Rangers squad.

Pacioretty has had a tendency of stepping up this season when it’s really needed. When Alex Galchenyuk went down to injury, Pacioretty stepped up his play and carried the team offensively for several weeks.

During the team’s lowest point this season, and in need of a win, Pacioretty put the team on his back and provided an inspirational four point night against Arizona when a loss could have demoralized the team to a breaking point. Also, he holds the team record for most overtime goals. This is no small feat on a team with a 108 year history and level of success held by the Canadiens.

In the first five games of the series, Pacioretty has not scored. This is a problem for the offensively-challenged Canadiens.

Pacioretty was the top goal scorer during the regular season, potting 13 more than Paul Byron’s 22 goals, which allowed Byron to finish second on the team. The two were the only two to top the 20 goal mark for the Canadiens during the regular campaign.

However, noting that Pacioretty has not yet scored is not to say that the captain isn’t contributing. Pacioretty factored directly in the overtime victory in game three by stripping the puck from Rick Nash and setting up Alexander Radulov in the slot.

More is needed, yet successful leadership is never done alone. It requires others to provide support. Enter Claude Julien.

Having been through the gauntlet of the playoffs before, and winning the Stanley Cup, Julien understands what is needed from his key players to succeed. At this point, he recognizes the intense pressure the Montreal fanbase and media have exerted on his Captain.

“He’s a good player and whether you guys don’t think he’s done enough, for me internally, I think he’s done a lot and he’s got an opportunity to be better. My job is to take the pressure off him while he’s getting pressure from elsewhere.” — Claude Julien

That pressure can either wear on a player, or can help a player to rise up to his full potential. Scoring or not, he must find a way to lead his team to wins.

At the end of the day, the playoffs in Montreal are purely objective. Win and you’re a hero, lose and you’re a villain. No one doubts the desire this captain has to win. The pressure placed on him to score is tremendous, especially in this series, highlighted by a true goaltenders duel.

Pacioretty has the support, and has shown this season he is capable of stepping up. It is now time for him to prove it again. Doing so would silence the voices of dissent which grow with every passing game without a goal. But as always, that silence will be temporary, the only question is, how loud will those voices be if he cannot succeed?

Edited by Donna Sim