2018-19 Player Review: Max Pacioretty finished strong in debut season with the Knights

Pacioretty had an up-and-down year but had a strong showing in the postseason.

In the 2018-19 Player Review series, we will evaluate the 2018-19 performances of each member of the Golden Knights. Players were evaluated based on overall performance in both the regular season and playoffs, especially with regard to pre-season expectations and how that player performed in his particular role.

The Vegas Golden Knights traded for Max Pacioretty last September and promptly signed him to a four-year, $28 million contract extension, which will officially kick in at the start of the 2019-20 season. The deal involved sending Tomas Tatar, first-round pick Nick Suzuki and a 2019 second-round pick to the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for the Habs’ captain. Pacioretty stumbled out of the gate, scoring two goals and zero assists in his first 14 games with the Golden Knights. His season was interrupted by injury, and Vegas was often unable to ice its ideal second line due to injuries throughout the roster. But while Pacioretty’s first year in the desert wasn’t overly memorable, his performance in the playoffs could be a sign of great things to come.

Season in review

Pacioretty managed just two points in his first 14 games but responded with eight goals and 13 points in his next nine, which included a stretch in which he scored eight goals in seven games. He recorded 10 multi-point efforts throughout the year, finishing the regular season with 22 goals and 40 points in 66 games. That was good for a points-per-game average of 0.61, which was tied for the sixth-best rate on the Knights (min. 10 games).

It was a slight improvement in production over his 17-goal and 37-point campaign from the year before, though it was his second straight season without 30 goals after managing the feat in four consecutive years between 2013-14 and 2016-17.

Though Pacioretty’s shooting percentage was up from eight percent in 2017-18 to 11.5 percent this season, his shot volume was down significantly, which could at least partially explain the modest goal total.

Pacioretty has been a high-volume shooter throughout his career, which has led to five 30-goal seasons and plenty of offensive success. But he averaged just 2.89 shots per game in his first year in Sin City, which is drastically lower than his range of 3.31 to 3.78 over the last eight seasons.

Pacioretty’s shot statistics since 2011-12

SeasonTeamGPGoalsShotsS/GPS%G/60iSF/60iSF/60 (EV)iCF/60

It wasn’t an issue in the playoffs, though, as Pacioretty scored five goals and 11 points while averaging 4.29 shots per game. That was a much smaller sample, but it does further illustrate a potential pattern when it comes to Pacioretty’s production.

During the regular season, Pacioretty’s advanced stats at 5-on-5 were solid, though most of them did not stand out on a team with strong possession metrics up and down the lineup. His Corsi For percentage of 52.27 was the fourth-worst on the team since nearly everyone finished with a CF% above 50. One number that does stand out, however, is his 45.57 Goals For percentage, which also ranked fourth from the bottom (min. 11 games). That being said, that jumped to 62.5 percent in the playoffs.

On the flip side, Pacioretty finished second on the Knights in goals per 60 (1.15) and fourth in points per 60 (2.04), both at even strength. His 0.89 assists-per-60 rate ranked 10th on the team (min. 10 games) but he finished with his worst assists-per-game rate (0.27) since 2010-11. To be fair, though, that’s partly a result of the inconsistency of his linemates.

Going into the season, the plan was for Pacioretty to skate with childhood friend Paul Stastny, another offseason addition for the Knights. But Stastny went down in the third game of the season and proceeded to miss two months of action; Pacioretty then missed seven games shortly after Stastny returned to the lineup. Even so, Pacioretty had success with various linemates throughout the year.

As you can see in the table below, despite the injuries, Pacioretty spent the most time at 5-on-5 as part of the All-American Line with Stastny and Alex Tuch. The second line’s performance dipped in many categories when Cody Eakin took over during Stastny’s absence, but the line truly hit its stride when Pacioretty and Stastny were later joined by Mark Stone following Vegas’ trade-deadline splash.

Despite sharing an offensive zone faceoff start percentage of 35.3 at 5-on-5, the trio hit it out of the park across the board with a 57.96 CF%, 60 GF% and 60.09 expected GF%.

Pacioretty’s individual and line performance at 5-on-5

Player(s)TOICF%SF%GF%xGF%HDCF%HDGF%Off. Zone FO%
Pacioretty-Stastny-Stone (playoffs)84:5449.3548.6866.6750.3851.4366.6746.03

The line reached a new level in the playoffs, as Stone, Pacioretty and Stastny finished the series with a combined 31 points in seven games, good for first, second and third overall in team scoring with 12, 11 and eight points, respectively. Pacioretty tied career highs in goals (5), assists (6) and points (11) but did so in 10 fewer games.

Overall, it was an up-and-down year for the 30-year-old winger. A lack of consistent linemates and some cold stretches made it a somewhat disappointing season, though Pacioretty showed flashes of the elite sniper he’s capable of being, which was particularly evident in the playoffs.

Standout moment

Pacioretty’s best game of the season was his four-point performance in Game 4 of the first-round series against San Jose. He recorded two goals and two assists, including this goal just 1:11 into the game as he picked up a drop pass from Stone and found twine.

It was the sixth time in seven periods that Vegas had scored just two minutes into the frame, and it ended up being the game-winning goal in what should have been a critical win for the Knights.

Looking ahead to 2019-20

Pacioretty needs to get back to being a 30-goal scorer; arguably, anything short of 30 in 2019-20 will be a letdown, especially considering the amount of skill on Vegas’ second line.

Assuming the Knights re-sign William Karlsson, there’s no reason to believe the Pacioretty-Stastny-Stone line won’t remain intact; it could prove to be one of the most dominant two-way lines in the league and should be a huge factor for Vegas in Year 3.

Pacioretty’s elevated play in the playoffs demonstrated that he’s a big-time player, which is especially promising considering his $7 million cap hit will be in effect for the next four years. If he can stay healthy and keep firing the puck at the net, good things could be in store for No. 67.

How would you grade Pacioretty’s 2018-19 performance?

A+ or A5
A- or B+21
B or B-23
C+ or C4
C- or below3

Statistics courtesy of NaturalStatTrick and Evolving-Wild.