NEW YORK — Max Pacioretty blames himself.
For most of his first 11 seasons in the NHL, Pacioretty manned the middle of his team’s power play formation, known as the “bumper” position, because of his quick shot release and goal-scoring prowess.
But he’s been stationed exclusively on the right flank of the Golden Knights’ power play this season, a move that Pacioretty said is largely responsible for him leading the team in scoring entering Monday’s game at Madison Square Garden against the red-hot New York Rangers.
“I’ve always been a little bit more of a decoy in the middle, and I’ve kind of always felt teams really focus on me a lot when I’m in there and it was really tough to get shots off,” Pacioretty said after practice Sunday.
“I feel a lot more comfortable in my spot on the power play. I’m kind of mad at myself for never really requesting or demanding to play that spot because I’ve kind of always known that’s where I’d be most effective.”
Pacioretty was utilized on the right side of the Knights’ power play last season after Mark Stone was acquired at the trade deadline in February. Pacioretty totaled one goal and two assists on the power play in his final 16 appearances.
Through the first 28 games of this season, Pacioretty is tied with Stone for the team lead with nine points on the power play. He managed eight power play points in 66 games during his first season with the Knights.
Pacioretty’s seven power-play assists are two shy of his career high, which he accomplished three times during his 10 seasons with Montreal. He’s never registered more than 17 power-play points during his career.
The Knights entered Sunday ranked ninth in the league on the power play at 21.1 percent despite a recent 1-for-14 slump.
“We have all the right-hand shots in the right spots, having a righty on the other wall, a righty on the goal line, a lefty in the middle and a lefty up top and that’s made life really easy for me,” Pacioretty said. “Really, for all the power play plays that we run, we’re not forcing plays into a player who’s not in a one-time position, and that’s kind of allowed myself to get more assists and for us to have a pretty successful power play.”
Pacioretty, who turned 31 on Nov. 20, tops the Knights with 25 points and is on pace to finish with a career-high 73 points. His previous best is 67 points, which he did twice in Montreal (2014-15 and 2016-17).
Skating primarily with Stone and center Paul Stastny, his 16 assists have nearly surpassed last season’s total of 18.
And he’s been a model of consistency, not going more than three straight games without recording at least one point.
“From day one, I think he’s come in on a mission,” said linemate and good friend Paul Stastny. “I think he’s just more comfortable and health-wise, from where he was last year … more explosiveness and a little more powerful than he was last year.”
Pacioretty also has felt more comfortable taking on a leadership role in the locker room. The former Canadiens captain said he was careful not to disrupt the chemistry last season after being acquired by the Knights four days before training camp.
“Maybe I could have handled that different in terms of just coming in and not focusing on that,” Pacioretty said. “But at the same time, I think in the long run, it’s appreciated a little more allowing guys to have the spotlight when it’s their time and not make too much about the trade and yourself when it happened.”
Who: Golden Knights at Rangers
When: 4 p.m. Monday
Where: Madison Square Garden, New York
TV: AT&T SportsNet (Cox 313/1313, DirecTV 684, CenturyLink 760/1760, U-verse 757/1757, Dish 414/5414)
Radio: KRLV (98.9 FM, 1340 AM)
Line: Knights -130; total 6 (under -115)