The last time a Canadiens player led the NHL in goals at the end of a season was 1977-78, when Guy Lafleur hit the back of the net 60 times, seven more than the New York Islanders’ Mike Bossy and 11 more than teammate Steve Shutt.
Not a single member of the Canadiens’ current roster was even born when that happened. Defenceman Andrei Markov, the oldest player on the team, was born on Dec. 20, 1978.
It looked like Canadiens captain Max Pacioretty had a good shot at winning the Maurice Richard Trophy this season for leading the NHL in goals before the Pittsburgh Penguins’ Sidney Crosby exploded for five goals in two weekend games to give him 40 — seven more than Pacioretty, who has 10 games remaining in the regular season.
Heading into Monday’s games, Pacioretty was tied for fourth in the NHL in goals, trailing Crosby, Boston’s Brad Marchand (37) and St. Louis’s Vladimir Tarasenko (34). Tied with Pacioretty at 33 were Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin, Tampa Bay’s Nikita Kucherov, Columbus’s Cam Atkinson and Winnipeg’s Patrik Laine.
After practice last week, Pacioretty said he wasn’t paying attention to the race for the Maurice Richard Trophy — which was first awarded after the 1998-99 season in honour of the former Canadiens legend — instead only focusing on his team’s success.
When asked if he was playing the best hockey of his career, Pacioretty responded: “I take one game at a time. You know what? If you’re not changing your game every year, then you’re falling behind. I think that to be able to maintain numbers doesn’t mean you just do the same stuff every summer or every year. Guys key on you, guys learn your tendencies and it’s also a league where trends or styles change every year.”
Pacioretty didn’t score in back-to-back weekend wins over the Ottawa Senators and has now gone three games without a goal. He needs six more to match his career high of 39 set during the 2013-14 season. This is the fourth straight season that Pacioretty has scored at least 30 goals.
“It’s hard work to even stay at the same level you’re at year after year,” the captain said. “But you try and do whatever you can to improve and I think that’s what a lot of the best players do. I see a lot of the best players over the summer and see what they do and see what they work on. So I’ve just been blessed to be surrounded by players like that.”
What makes Pacioretty’s scoring accomplishments this season even more impressive is the fact he has been playing with a variety of different linemates. Coach Claude Julien now has him with Alex Galchenyuk and Alexander Radulov on a stacked No. 1 line.
“When you look at his goal total and everything else, it just goes to show you that players who want to play the game right just do their jobs right and they get the results,” Julien said about Pacioretty after practice last week. “It doesn’t matter who you play with. It’s not always about looking for somebody to make you better, but you make somebody else better and right now he’s obviously done that with other players because it doesn’t matter who he’s played with, he’s scored some goals. That’s certainly a feather in his cap that he’s capable of doing that. He deserves a lot of credit for that.
“He’s a real good shooter,” Julien added. “He knows when to shoot the puck. He knows that that’s his strength and he doesn’t overpass because of those reasons and that’s what I like about him. Goal-scorers know their roles and they know what to do. Not only has he been scoring goals, but he’s been really good in all other areas of the ice. And to me he’s showing a lot as far as defensively, he’s killing penalties. I put him on late in the game the other night when the goalie was pulled out because he’ll do the job in his own end before he worries about putting the puck in the empty net.”
The Bruins’ Marchand might seem like an unlikely candidate to win the Maurice Richard Trophy, but Pacioretty said he isn’t surprised by the Boston forward’s success this season, already matching his career high of 37 goals set last year.
“He’s a very good player,” Pacioretty said. “He’s playing really, really well. It will probably be between him and Sid. Sid always, for some reason, seems to come out on top of those things, but it will be fun to watch until the end.”
(Photo: Allen McInnis/Montreal Gazette)
Day off for Canadiens
The Canadiens were given the day off Monday, following Sunday night’s 4-1 win over the Ottawa Senators at the Bell Centre.
The Canadiens, who are now four points ahead of the Senators atop the Atlantic Division standings, will have a morning skate at 11 a.m. Tuesday in Brossard before facing the Detroit Red Wings Tuesday night at the Bell Centre (7:30 p.m., SNE, RDS, TSN Radio 690).
The Canadiens, who have 10 games remaining in the regular season, play their next five games at home. Of their remaining games on the schedule, only next Saturday’s rematch with the Senators at the Bell Centre is against a team currently in a playoff position.
New line clicking
Julien has been tinkering with his lines since taking over from Michel Therrien on Valentine’s Day — posting a 10-4-0 record since then — but the coach seems to have found some chemistry with Tomas Plekanec between Brendan Gallagher and Paul Byron.
Plekanec ended a 19-game goal-less drought when he scored Sunday night against the Senators, while Byron also scored to reach the 20-goal mark for the first time in his career. Gallagher picked up an assist, as did Byron, and all three members of the line were plus-2.
“It’s been really nice,” Gallagher said. “Everyone wants to have a line and for me this year it’s kind of been a little bit all over the place. It’s tough. It’s nice to build that chemistry and I think every game that we’ve been together we’ve been improving. There’s still areas that we can (improve), but the more we talk, the more we figure it out. I think the three of us enjoy playing together.
“The last couple of games we’ve kind of been tasked with playing against the other team’s top lines and I think that’s a challenge we all enjoy,” Gallagher added. “We’re all competitive guys and we get up for that. I think it brings out the best in us. I think when you can be matched up against top players, any time you have a role, you have an identity as a group. I think we’ve just been going out and trying to outplay the guys we match up against and the three of us we’ve been able to use each other pretty well on the cycle. Paul’s speed, Pleky’s a very smart player — I still learn a lot playing with him. For me it’s easy to do my job and just kind of be a contributor. It’s been good so far, hopefully it continues.”
Gallagher and Byron are both listed at 5-foot-9 and Gallagher was asked if he sees similarities between himself and his linemate.
“What I love about Paulie’s game is how he competes,” said Gallagher, who is 182 pounds compared with Byron’s 160. “He always wants to be a difference maker … he’s upset with himself when he’s not. There’s times he’s pretty tough on himself, but that’s what you want from your teammates. You want them to push themselves to be the best that they can be and year after year he’s improved. A guy that was placed on waivers at one point in his career. Since we picked him up (from Calgary before last season) he’s been nothing but impactful regardless of what line he’s playing on, who he’s playing with. He’s a guy that perfects the game. He’s a dangerous player … he’s a very good hockey player. He’s been blessed with a lot of skills, but at the same time he works for everything that he’s gotten and you’re happy to see him hit the 20-goal mark.”
Byron was very happy to hit the 20-goal mark with his family in the stands at the Bell Centre Sunday night.
“I didn’t think I’d be a 20-goal scorer in the NHL,” said Byron, who selected by the Flames in the sixth round (179th overall) at the 2007 NHL Draft. “I’ve come a long way to reach that, so it’s definitely a special moment. My wife and kids are here in the rink, so it’s a pretty cool thing to see.”
Habs getting secondary scoring
The bad news for the Canadiens is that Pacioretty hasn’t scored a goal in three games. The good news is that the Canadiens have won two of those games, meaning they’re finally getting some secondary scoring and not relying so heavily on the captain to score.
“I think it’s a real good sign for our team,” said Byron, who has six goals in the last eight games. “We had a lot of confidence in our team, especially post-deadline (for NHL trades on March 1). We weren’t scoring, but we knew that we were capable of it. It was just a matter of getting back on track and getting back to the offensive capability that we were able to play to. So to have that depth of scoring is huge for us.”
Added Shea Weber: “Come playoff time, that’s what you need. It’s not always the guys that are expected to score that get the job done. It’s kind of the unsung guys and right now I think everyone’s doing their part.”
Phillip Danault ended a 22-game goal-less drought when he scored in Saturday’s 4-3 shootout win over the Senators. Plekanec ended his 19-game drought Sunday and defenceman Nathan Beaulieu also scored Sunday, ending a 31-game goal drought.
The Canadiens player with the longest goal drought now is defenceman Jeff Petry, who has gone 37 games without a goal, dating back to Dec. 23.
After Tuesday’s game, the Canadiens play the Carolina Hurricanes Thursday night at the Bell Centre (7:30 p.m., SNE, RDS, TSN Radio 690), followed by the Senators on Saturday (7 p.m., SN, TVA Sports, TSN Radio 690).