A lot of fingers were pointed lately at Max Pacioretty and his centre David Desharnais over the Montreal Canadiens' weak goal production.
That was put to rest, at least for now, on Tuesday night when Pacioretty got a natural hat trick in the second period and the Canadiens skated to a 6-2 NHL victory over the Minnesota Wild.
Pacioretty picked up his first goals in 10 games since Oct. 12 in Vancouver, although he missed eight games with a leg injury during that stretch.
"There's a lot of things probably being said about me out there — that's how it is in this business when you're not performing," said Pacioretty, who among other slights, had been criticized for being a "perimeter" player of late. "Everyone goes through it, but it felt good tonight.
"You can look at stats all you want but I missed a lot of good opportunities lately. One game I had eight shots. It started getting into my head, thinking that I can't score, so it's definitely a monkey off the back. The first one was lucky, off a skate and in, but you take them as they come."
Desharnais got two assists, giving him three points in 20 games this season. Only last week, newly elected Montreal mayor Denis Coderre caused a stir when he suggested Desharnais be sent to the minors. He was scratched one game, but bounced back with better efforts of late.
When he is on his game, the stocky centre is a clever passer and playmaker, although he only seems ever to click with Pacioretty.
Part of the breakthrough came when coach Michel Therrien put tenacious right winger Brendan Gallagher on their unit. That threesome was Montreal's best line in the second half of last season. And Pacioretty went hard to the front of the net for two of his goals.
"Davy and I, our chemistry is at a level where he knows where I'm going and he can throw blind passes, and that's what happened, said Pacioretty. "Gally gets everyone going.
"He's an energetic player. With him getting into the forecheck and disrupting the defence a little, all it takes is a split second. He's a hound on the puck and he got us going."
Michael Bournival, Daniel Briere and Alex Galchenyuk also scored for the Canadiens (11-9-2), who had tallied only 18 goals in their previous 11 games.
Nino Niederreiter and Dany Heatley scored for the Wild (13-5-4), which ended a four-game winning streak and an eight-game undefeated run dating to a 5-1 loss to Chicago on Oct. 28.
Minnesota looked nothing like the air-tight defensive club that was piling up wins in recent weeks. Once Pacioretty's first goal went in, they put up little fight. Top defenceman Ryan Suter ended the night minus-3, while his partner Jonas Brodin was minus-4.
Coach Mike Yeo wants to see the team push back Wednesday night in Ottawa.
"It's all a matter how you take this one in," said Yeo. "If we just sit here and say 'we've been on a nice run and this was bound to happen,' then I don't think we should expect much difference from tonight.
"If this stings like it should, it should he motivating for us to win that game."
Wild starter Josh Harding, one of the NHL's three stars for his three wins last week, was pulled in the second period after allowing three goals on 19 shots in favour of third-stringer Darcy Kuemper, who looked shaky in allowing three goals on nine shots.
Yeo said pulling Harding was partly to keep him fresh to play in Ottawa. Harding has given up three only twice this season, both times to Montreal.
At 2:57 of the second period, Pacioretty's slump ended when he had a Desharnais pass go in off his skate from in front of the net.
The Canadiens, coming off a 1-0 loss at home to the New York Rangers on Saturday night, had not scored since a Lars Eller goal at 7:34 of the second period of a 3-2 shootout win last Friday in Columbus.
Pacioretty converted a spin-around pass from Desharnais at 10:06 at even strength and then ended Harding's night when he tipped in P.K. Subban's point shot on a power play at 13:36.
Bournival came from behind the net and beat Kuemper inside the near post at 16:16. Briere one-timed Brian Gionta's cross-ice pass behind Kuemper on a counter attack 4:42 into the third.
Niederreiter spoiled Carey Price's shutout less than a minute later when he went to the net to bang in his own rebound after a feed from behind the net from Kyle Brodziak.
Galchenyuk converted an Andrei Markov feed on a power play at 7:35.
Then Heatley, a shadow of his former self this season, jammed in a goal on a power play with 1.3 seconds left in the game for only his third goal in 22 games.
In his heyday as a 50-goal and 100-point man with the Ottawa Senators, Heatley — along with Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson — terrorized the Canadiens. In 43 career games against Montreal, he has 25 goals and 52 points.
Notes: Six goals was a season high scored for Montreal and allowed by Minnesota. . . Pacioretty got his second career hat trick (last: Feb. 9, 2012). . . Winger Rene Bourque (lower body) sat out and Ryan White returned to the Montreal lineup. . . Douglas Murray and George Parros were scratched. . . Minnesota sat out defenceman Matt Dumba. . .The Wild started a four-game road trip that takes them to Ottawa and then onto Winnipeg on Saturday and St. Louis on Monday.