Leadership, two-way play, expansion on Max Pacioretty's mind

MONTREAL -- Montreal Canadiens captain Max Pacioretty, the team's leading offensive star who takes his new leadership role seriously, sat down Wednesday for a conversation that ranged from his team's fast start to improving his game to what he'd do if named NHL commissioner for a day.

Pierre LeBrun: The smile comes easy these days for you guys, I'm sure. A 4-0 start, all on the road, you can't beat that.

Max Pacioretty: No, it's been a great start for us. The most important win, I think, was the last game. It's tough to play four in a row on the road, and especially against a team [Pittsburgh] that has that many stars, hasn't won a game yet, and was coming home for their opener. That was a gutsy win by our group, I think. The way we came out in that third period and took over the rest of the game shows a lot about our group. It's encouraging moving forward that we have the confidence to play that way, hopefully for the whole year.

PL: Four goals in four games for you. I know you care more about the wins, but you are expected to score goals for this team. Is it nice to get that going early in terms of getting into a rhythm?

MP: Yeah, a bit. I mean, it definitely helps your confidence, but I think I've gotten some bounces early in the year. They come in bunches like that. I've just been fortunate right now. The role I'm given I feel like is more two-way than it was in the past. A situation like last game, we're up 3-1 late in the game, you're trying to forecheck and make them play in their own end and make sure you don't give one up. I think if we have that mentality, we're going to win a lot of games.

PL: What areas of your game were you focused on coming into this season?

MP: Well, I was focused on being healthy this year because of the injury [knee this summer]. But I'm always trying to learn more defensively because that's what I've gotten best at the last couple of years. Early in my career I didn't play much on the penalty kill or play much late in the games. So being relied upon to do that has been a really big challenge and a really nice one as well. I'm learning a lot from guys like Pleky [Tomas Plekanec] who have been in that situation for a long time, especially late in games, when to pressure or when to kind of collapse and sit back. It's been a big learning curve, but I feel like I've been learning going along here.

PL: Some guys don't want to talk about expectations; other players thrive off it because it becomes motivation. You're the captain of this team. What do you feel are the expectations for this team this season?

MP: We have no excuses anymore. The last couple of years we had some young guys and maybe didn't have the experience; maybe those were excuses for us not making it all the way. We've had some good runs, but now there are no more excuses. Our core group of guys has the experience; we've all kind of come up together and gained the same experience at the same time. So there are no excuses anymore. This is our chance to play our best hockey, and we feel that our core group of players is right in the prime to do so. Making it all the way is our goal, like everybody else, but if we don't, we have no excuse.

PL: The team was criticized for a lack of offense last spring in the playoffs. Your GM added a few pieces to help address that, but how did you take that personally given that you are the guy counted on to score the most? Was that criticism tough to hear?

MP: Well, I didn't hear much in the summer, but you know, that was the issue of us not moving on, not putting enough pucks in the net. We know we have great defensemen, we know we have a great goaltender, and now we have the depth, too. It's only been four games, but we've seen every forward line step up. I think having this depth now maybe takes the pressure off everybody because we know any line can step up and take over the game.

PL: Take me through the day you were named captain. I know it involves a pretty funny story with GM Marc Bergevin and head coach Michel Therrien.

MP: We had the team dinner to start camp and everybody stayed after, and we voted. No one really knew the process or knew if there would even be a captain until they announced it. At the team golf tournament they kept their cards pretty close to their vest. But we did the vote, and I live right around the corner from the golf course where it was.

I guess after they counted it up, Berg said to Mike, 'Do you want to go to his house and tell him in person?' They came over, I got a call from Berg, he said, 'Open your door.' And I didn't see anyone. He went to the neighbors' place. Then I see him and Mike coming around the corner pretty quickly, and they both got out of the car dying laughing. They didn't even say anything. I knew right away. They came into my house, and we had a pretty long talk about how special it was and what comes with wearing the 'C' here. It's a night I'll never forget.

PL: I know you're a big Derek Jeter fan. He was a captain in baseball during his time. I wonder if you've allowed yourself to think about Jeter, the Yankees' captain, and you're now the captain of the Habs, the history with both teams ...

MP: Absolutely. I think about not just captains in hockey, but leaders in other sports, and how they act on the field in Jeter's case and on the ice for hockey players, but also away from the field and away from the rink. This is all fresh to me, I definitely have a long way to go, but I'm trying to copy how I feel they would handle themselves. I definitely have a long way to go to be considered one of them.

PL: How do you handle that within the room as far as knowing that other guys would have loved to wear the 'C' as well? P.K. Subban was pretty open about his desire to be captain. Did you guys talk about that afterward?

MP: No, no, at the end of the day, it's whatever is best for the team is what everyone cares about. I know everybody on every team says that, but our team is pretty genuine where we want everyone to feel good about themselves and feel good about their game. That's when the results are definitely in our favor. I think our team is pretty genuine when it comes to wanting the best for each other. And it's shown so far.

PL: One of the often-repeated criticisms of your team is, 'Well, if Montreal didn't have Carey Price, they wouldn't be that good a team.' I mean, I don't see the New England Patriots apologizing for having Tom Brady as their quarterback, right? Do you guys as players get frustrated by that narrative?

MP: I don't know if we should apologize to people for having the best goalie in the world, or the fact that our best player is the one that's on the ice for 60 minutes rather than a forward playing 15-20 minutes. It's not frustrating, it's just kind of funny that it is that way. But we have nothing to be sorry for. He's the best player in the world, and his hard work and his dedication is definitely something that's rubbed off on me and my teammates as well. We're just so happy to have him. If people want to keep writing that, we'll keep laughing about it.

PL: The Bell Centre will be rocking no doubt for the home opener Thursday night. Have you ever allowed yourself to think what it would be like to win a Cup in that building? Of course, you know who Gary Bettman would hand the Cup to first, right?

MP: I've thought about it a lot the last couple of years, especially as our team got better and better. You just can't even imagine. The best I've ever seen the Bell Centre was Game 6 against Boston two years ago, it was just absolutely rocking, I have goose bumps when I think about it, and I think about it all the time. I just want to relive those moments over and over again, and the only way we can do that is by winning games, and hopefully we can do that this year.

PL: Speaking of Gary Bettman, if you were commissioner for a day, what would be the one thing you would do?

MP: Hmmm. I would just try to get as many teams in as possible. I know they're probably heading in that direction, but I think expansion would be a great thing for the league, and I think there's so many players that deserve to play in this league that maybe don't ever get that opportunity. The game is so fast, there's so many great players now, and you saw this summer how many good players didn't have contracts. So I think expansion is the route I'd go.

PL: You're trying to bring back the Nordiques-Canadiens rivalry, aren't you?

MP: That would be awesome. It would be a lot of fun. Hopefully, hopefully it happens.