Call of the Wilde: Gut-check time for Pacioretty
Brian Wilde, CTV Montreal
Published Saturday, May 10, 2014 2:25PM EDT
Last Updated Saturday, May 10, 2014 7:11PM EDT
"It's gut-check time."
It seems odd that a 25-year-old coming off his best season with 39 goals would be facing a 'reality check' but Max Pacioretty right now is at a career crossroad.
"I'll give him credit. He's gotten the better of me."
The 'He' Max speaks of is Zdeno Chara and he has been on for 82 per cent of Pacioretty's shifts in Boston and he is showing Max that it is one thing to score on the Florida Panthers on a lazy night in December and quite a different thing to score on one of the best – but not just one of the best defenders in Chara, also one of the best goalies in Tuukka Rask.
That's the playoffs. No freebies. No bad teams as opponents. No AHL defencemen. Nobody overmatched by your skills. The best against the best to see who can compete at a higher level.
Pacioretty is at that point in his career where he has to either figure it out or be known as a guy who is just a regular season success. GM Marc Bergevin even said it in general terms once at a news conference. "Some players get you to the playoffs and some players get you success in the playoffs." He wasn't speaking about Max at the time and he is hoping beyond hope that he wouldn't be now.
A word of caution: Be very careful of the sample size before you write off Pacioretty as one of those guys who can't elevate in the post season against the best competition. Always be wary that there is a learning process in all things in life. Be alert that there would be plenty of GMs to take advantage of frustration over a poor playoff and take a highly skilled player off your hands before his playoff learning process is complete.
Here's why one must be careful before the daggers come out: Pacioretty has 12 playoff games in his career in the NHL. 12. This is shocking in itself as he missed the 2011 playoff series against Boston because of the vicious hit into the stanchion by Chara. A memory that must live with Max as he tries to not just figure out how to score against a regular high-quality defenceman the likes of Doughty or Keith, but against the guy who sent him to the hospital - the guy who nearly killed him - the guy who brings the greatest fear into an opponent in the game not only now but at 6' 9", maybe in hockey history.
Pacioretty has to also try to convince himself that a hit like that could not happen again, but how easy is it to win that internal struggle when the NHL didn't even suspend the monolith on skates for a hit that makes the MMA look like Charmin. Could you defeat that horrid memory if it happened to you? Would you have PTSD over that hit but be able to blank it out and face that trauma every second night when you came streaking down the wing 20 times a game?
Just keep it in mind that for Pacioretty figuring out Chara or Keith is a vastly different concept in Max's head. One day soon Chara will be retired and on that day Pacioretty only has to best a high quality defenceman and not the worst moment in his hockey life. That's going to be a great day for Max. Some demons will be exorcised that day.
For those who live in alternate universes who don't reflect on anything with cause and effect, the bottom line is Pacioretty has only one goal in his 12 playoff games. One goal. One. That is a weak total, tough opponent or not, for a guy who averages a goal every two games in the regular season. He is the go to guy on the Habs. He is expected to shine. It has been said often: As much as weak play from a 6th defenceman is costly, and don't hear me incorrectly it definitely is, the real death knell is when you're best players aren't your best players.
Let's not be blind though and wrap a nice tight little bow around this entire plot line and say that all that matters is whether Max scores or he doesn't score. That would be unfair because Pacioretty has played well 5 on 5 these playoffs. The goals aren't there but there is no liability defensively here. Last season, the line with Desharnais was a mess against Ottawa as they couldn't even retain possession. That's not the first line plot this year and this is a good progression of possession and offensive zone time if you're not forcing a negative agenda.
However, a first-line winger who is relied on heavily to win games is measured in goals.
So Pacioretty said it all this morning about how important this moment is to his career and to the Habs success this year and long term.
"It's gut-check time."