MONTREAL - Three seasons into his pro hockey career, Max Pacioretty says he's starting to figure out what he needs to do to stick with the Montreal Canadiens.
The 2007 first-round draft pick wants to use his six-foot-two 210-pound frame to clear some space and produce some points, like all good power forwards do.
"The biggest problem with my development was knowing exactly what a power forward is, because you see Alex Ovechkin is a power forward and then a third- or fourth-line guy is a power forward as well," the 21-year-old said Monday. "The balance between playing physical and trying to add offence is hard to find, and it's something I've definitely found this year through lots of video and conversations with the coaches."
Pacioretty was front and centre in the Canadiens' 3-2 victory over Boston on Saturday night, assisting on Brian Gionta's tying goal with 48 seconds left in regulation time and scoring the overtime winner. In that game, he played a season-high 19:03, led the team in shots with six and in hits with five.
He hopes to keep it going when the Canadiens travel to New York to face the Rangers on Tuesday night. A large group of family and friends will be in from his hometown of New Canaan, Conn., to watch Montreal's first of four meetings with the Rangers this season.
Montreal will be without winger Michael Cammalleri, who left the Boston game in the second period with an unspecified illness (believed to be a stomach problem) and didn't make the trip to New York. It is not known if he will be well enough to play a home game Wednesday against Pittsburgh.
Pacioretty liked how he played against the Bruins.
"I think that was my biggest achievement in that game—to put up points and have hits," he said. "That's the game I want to play and I hope I can keep it up."
Perhaps, but what got as much time on the TV highlights was a little shove he gave to towering Bruins defenceman Zdeno Chara after scoring his goal, which touched off a melee as the game ended. Candiens defenceman Hal Gill moved in to tie up the six-foot-nine Chara, who looked angry enough to start tossing bodies around. Pacioretty said he's seen the video and still doesn't know what he was thinking.
"It doesn't make sense why I did that, it was just heat of the moment, but a couple of guys have been joking about it," he said.
In 12 games since he was called up from Hamilton of the American Hockey League, Pacioretty has three goals and four assists and hopes to keep adding to those totals.
He's certainly getting prime playing time on an all-American line with Gionta and centre Scott Gomez.
While with Hamilton early in the season, Pacioretty raised some eyebrows by saying it would be no use for Montreal to call him up unless it is to play on one of the top two lines. Usually, call-ups from the minors aren't picky about where and how much they're used.
Pacioretty, who is getting the chance he wanted, says the comment was misunderstood, that he wasn't playing the prima donna, but that he was most able to help a team by being an offensive player rather than a checker.
He had been used in both jobs in previous stints in Montreal, including as a rookie in 2008-09 when he had three goals in 34 NHL games and last season when he scored three in 52 games.
But he has looked to be a different player this season, piling up 17 goals and 15 assists in 27 games with Hamilton before he was called up. Pacioretty said he worked harder in the off-season to build up his strength and got a lot of good coaching from new Bulldogs coach Randy Cunneyworth.
"I feel more confident," he said. "Talk to players around the league and they say 90 per cent of the game is between the ears and I definitely believe that.
"I'm more confident now than ever in my life and it's starting to show on the ice. The coaches I worked with this year did a good job of staying positive and helping me with my confidence, showing me I can play at this level. That helps a lot."
In recent years, the Canadiens have been very good at developing goaltenders and smaller forwards, but have had all manner of trouble producing an impact forward with a big body. They're hoping Pacioretty will be the exception.
His five-foot-seven Hamilton linemate David Desharnais, who set up many of his goals, has also been with the Canadiens for the last three games. Desharnais led Hamilton with 78 points last season and was tearing up the AHL again with 45 points in 35 games.
"Down there, we were playing well and winning, so when you come up here, you don't change your habits," the Quebec City native said. "Max is working a little harder now. He knows it'snot going to come easy. He's a great player and when he works hard, he's an awesome player."
Since going 2-8 from Dec. 12 to Dec. 30, the Canadiens have gone four games without a regulation time loss, taking seven of a possible eight points. All four games went either to overtime or a shootout.
The Rangers have won three in a row, also all one-goal games.
The Canadiens and Rangers play again Saturday night in Montreal.