The Canadiens announced via its Twitter account Saturday night that Pacioretty underwent an emergency appendectomy and will miss the next three to four weeks.
Pacioretty missed practice Saturday morning with what the team described as flu-like symptoms, and coach Michel Therrien said that the young forward had a fever so the team felt it was better if he were sent home.
Pacioretty, 24, has four assists in three games for the Canadiens this season. He led the club in 2011-12 with 65 points (33 goals, 32 assists).
He won the Bill Masterton Trophy last season for coming back from a concussion and cracked vertebra in his neck, costing him the final 15 games and seven playoff games in 2010-11. He also suffered what was feared to be a cracked rib earlier in the 2010-11 season, being rushed to hospital in Buffalo after taking a puck to the ribs during a game against the Sabres.
However, Pacioretty has also shown a tendency to come back far sooner than expected from injuries.
That cracked rib did not cost Pacioretty a single game, and he was cleared to return to action for the second round of the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs if the Canadiens had managed to win Game 7 of the first round against the Boston Bruins just two months after his concussion and cracked vertebra.
The Canadiens host the New Jersey Devils on Sunday at the Bell Centre, and should Pacioretty miss all four weeks, he could potentially return Feb. 23 at home to the New York Rangers. Under that scenario, Pacioretty would miss 14 games -- or about 29 percent of the shortened season.
Pacioretty, David Desharnais and Erik Cole made up one of the NHL's most productive forward lines last season, combining for 84 goals, 102 assists and 186 points in spite of the fact opposing teams could focus on them as the only consistent scoring threat on a Canadiens team that finished last in the Eastern Conference. Pacioretty's 33 goals were tied for 17th in the NHL, and his 29 even strength goals were fourth behind only Steven Stamkos, Evgeni Malkin and Marian Gaborik.
Lars Eller, a healthy scratch the last two games, was skating in Pacioretty's spot on that line at practice Saturday, but Therrien said he had planned to re-insert Eller into the lineup before he found out Pacioretty was feeling ill. It's possible Eller will stay in that spot Sunday against the Devils.
This news may seriously influence the Canadiens' looming decision of whether or not to keep rookie Alex Galchenyuk or send him back to the Sarnia Sting of the Ontario Hockey League.
Galchenyuk began the season at left wing on the Canadiens' second line with Tomas Plekanec and Brian Gionta, but he's played the past two games at center with fellow rookie Brendan Gallagher and bodyguard Brandon Prust on the wings, a line that has been effective for the Canadiens.
The Canadiens play their fifth game of the season Tuesday night at home to the Winnipeg Jets, and if Galchenyuk plays the following night in Ottawa against the Senators, the first year of his entry-level contract will be triggered and he will essentially be assured of spending the season in Montreal.
Therrien was asked Saturday about Galchenyuk's chances of sticking with the club, obviously prior to his knowledge of Pacioretty's condition, and his answer appeared to suggest the rookie was a part of the club's plans this season.
"You're looking to see if the player has the skill, if the player has the speed, if he's capable of competing at this level, if he understands the game, if he's learning quickly," he said. "These are all things Alex is doing right now."
Therrien added that Galchenyuk is approaching his opportunity the right way.
"We like the way that he's a part of the team, veterans are starting to respect him because he's a good kid and he shows a lot of respect for his teammates," Therrien said. "We've got a good kid on our hands."
That kid might be asked to grow up in a hurry starting Sunday night.