Let me take you back some six weeks ago when the Hamilton Bulldogs put in an appearance at the Bell Centre to play an American Hockey League game against the Binghamton Senators.
It was early November, and Max Pacioretty was beginning to tear it up in the AHL. At the time, Pacioretty raised more than a few eyebrows when he said his development would be better served with first-line, full-time minutes with the Bulldogs, than part-time, fourth-line minutes with the Canadiens.
Insert raised eyebrows here.
For his part, Pacioretty couldn’t understand what the fuss was all about. After all, he was speaking from experience.
After being called up by the Canadiens from Hamilton midway through the 2008-09 season, his first as a pro after one year at the University of Michigan, Pacioretty showed some real promise out there — a power forward in the making who filled out that number 67 jersey nicely. However, Pacioretty just teased us during that 34-game stretch, when he scored three goals and added eight assists. The following season was one filled with frustration and a shattered confidence. Fifty-two games and three goals into the 2009-10 campaign, Pacioretty was sent back down to Hamilton, falling off the Canadiens’ radar in the process.
At the time, Habs fans were probably more frustrated with management than they were with Pacioretty, a first-round draft pick, number 22 overall in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. The feeling was that the Habs rushed the native of Connecticut through the ranks, with Pacioretty turning pro in Hamilton after just one season at Michigan.
Pacioretty failed to make the grade at Habs training camp this season and was sent back down to Hamilton. However, instead of sulking, Pacioiretty worked. And he worked hard. And he took advantage of his ice time by coming away as the November player-of-the-month in the AHL. Brimming with confidence and a league-leading 17 goals at the time of his call-up, Pacioretty said it was his time.
It was his “time to shine,” as he put it.
And that’s exactly what Pacioretty did tonight, scoring his first goal in his second game back as a Hab, with the Canadiens beating the Bruins 4-3 at the Bell Centre to snap a three-game losing streak. With the Canadiens leading 2-1, Pacioretty banked a backhander off a Bruin past Tim Tomas at 19:30 of the first period for his first goal as a Hab since Nov. 2009.
Pacioretty also picked up an assist on his way to a first-star performance. In the final minutes of the second period, Scott Gomez did good work behind the net to get the puck to Pacioretty, who won the battle along the boards, threw the puck toward the net, with Brian Gionta getting the goal. It was a huge one, as it gave the Canadiens a 4-2 lead in a game that ended 4-3.
Gomez-Gionta-Pacioretty. This was a line that was put together when Pacioretty was called up in advance of the game against the Flyers last night at the Bell Centre. And in a 5-3 loss, it was Montreal’s most-effective forward line. It was the same story tonight against the Bruins; and THIS time, it was in a winning effort.
Pacioretty wasn’t kidding when he said his line had a “pretty good game out there.” Gionta chipped in with his 11th goal of the season, while Gomez assisted on the goals by Gionta and Pacioretty.
After moving in a cast of characters to play with Gionta and Gomez through the early part of the season before finally breaking up the duo, Jacques Martin would appear to have his man in Max Pacioretty.
Now, if only Andrei Kostitsyn could rediscover his groove playing with Michael Cammalleri and Tomas Plekanec. If he does, the Canadiens could cause some real damage out there as they prepare to hit the road for a seven-game stretch.