When people think Max Pacioretty, they think goals.
As they should -- from 2011-17, Pacioretty rang up 189 goals, just behind Joe Pavelski, Steven Stamkos, and Alex Ovechkin. Even more impressively, his 142 Even Strength Goals during that time period trails only Ovechkin's 143.
That's some good company. But just as good is Pacioretty's defensive company.
In the last decade, only four true wingers have finished in the top-six of Selke Trophy voting: Ryan Callahan was fourth in 2011-12, Marian Hossa fifth in 2013-14, Pacioretty sixth in 2014-15, and Mark Stone sixth in 2016-17.
"It's a very underrated part of my game," acknowledged Pacioretty.
So what does Pacioretty do so well defensively?
Skating, of course, is the foundation of being an effective hockey player in any zone.
Pacioretty (67) matches Drew Doughty (8) coming up the ice step for step. Dustin Brown (23) obviously longs to hit Doughty with the cross-ice pass.
Pacioretty does something unusual. He goes low to get as much of his stick on the ice as possible. Basically, he's closing up any holes where the puck might slide through.
It looks desperate, but notice how Pacioretty hardly loses any of his speed. Also notice how quickly he pops back up after deflecting the pass. This is a remarkable display of skating and body control.
Then, to boot, Pacioretty springs his linemates for a 2-on-1.
Besides quick feet, you also need to be smart to play credible defense. The cliche is "keep your head on a swivel," which Pacioretty does constantly.
On the Los Angeles power play, Anze Kopitar (11) has the puck on the half wall. As two Canadiens converge on him, Pacioretty shades toward Doughty in the high slot -- at the moment, Doughty with his stick cocked is the most dangerous King. Because Doughty is now covered, Kopitar finesses it to Jeff Carter (77) at the blueline.
Pacioretty recognizes, steps up on Carter, and hampers the high-low pass to Doughty.
Pacioretty was proud to note, "I've always played on the penalty kill." Last year, he registered a career-high 1:43 Per Game on the PK.
Okay, so we know that Pacioretty is smart and can skate. It also doesn't hurt that he's 6'2". He maximizes his length to full defensive effect.
Pacioretty uses his skating ability to match Doughty step for step, angling the blueliner from the middle of the ice, the most dangerous part of the ice.
While Doughty manages to beat Pacioretty to the outside, his options are now severely limited. Pacioretty's reach and stick keeps Doughty in the outside lane; the blueliner is basically funneled into a waiting Canadien.
Pacioretty makes an aggressive but safe read here.
He takes a couple steps toward a hard-charging Marian Gaborik (12), angling Gaborik into the two Montreal defensemen. Pacioretty's stick on the ice accomplishes two things: It steers Gaborik where Pacioretty wants and discourages a pass to Trevor Lewis (22) on the right wing. Pacioretty's skating ability also manages to stay step for step with the speedy Lewis.
Gaborik still manages a scoring chance, but that's on the Canadien defensemen.
If that's not enough, Pacioretty flat-out dominates these two shifts defensively.
(00:00) Pacioretty harasses Alec Martinez (27) with his skating and reach.
(00:04) That reach comes in play again, as it forces Mike Cammalleri (14) into an uncomfortable backhand pass.
(00:08) The pass bounces off Doughty's skate and Pacioretty is on him.
(00:14) Doughty dumps off to Martinez. Pacioretty hangs around center ice, in good defensive position.
(00:16) When Martinez tries to connect with Doughty, Pacioretty's stick is there again, forcing Doughty into a hurried pass to the wing. Cammalleri tries to catch up to it, but Jordie Benn (8) beats him to it.
(00:19) Brown claims the loose puck, but guess who's there? Pacioretty angles Brown off the puck.
(00:23) Benn recovers, Montreal clear. Pacioretty isn't done, as he chases down Doughty and the puck.
(00:25) He once again forces Doughty to the outside lane.
(00:27) Doughty hurries a backhand pass off Kopitar's skate.
(00:00) Pacioretty gets in Craig Smith's (15) skating lane.
(00:05) Pacioretty's radius forces Smith to go back with the puck.
(00:09) Anthony Bitetto (2) hard rims it back to Smith, but Pacioretty has established body position. Kyle Turris (8) tries to help Smith, but instead, ices the puck.
This, ultimately, is the difference between Pacioretty and James Neal, David Perron, or Tomas Tatar. Yes, Pacioretty, last season withstanding, is the better goalscorer. But more than anything, he's in another world defensively than those wingers.
"He plays a 200-foot game," declared Gerard Gallant. "He's going to score goals for you, but he's also going to keep goals out of your net."
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