Pacioretty, who has been sidelined since suffering left tibia plateau fractures in early July while training in Florida, will make his preseason debut when the Habs play host to the Ottawa Senators at the Bell Centre in their penultimate exhibition game of the year.
|Max Pacioretty will make his preseason debut on Thursday night against the Ottawa Senators at the Bell Centre. |
“It’s important for me [to play], I think, to get my speed and my timing back. It’s a bit of a process, but I think it speeds it up if I’m able to get into a game,” offered Pacioretty, who has spent the last three months rehabbing his injury in hopes of being ready for the season-opener on October 7 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto. “It definitely wasn’t a quick recovery. It will be 12 weeks [on Thursday], so it’s been a long time. It’s been a lot of work, but that’s what we’re being paid to do as professionals. I think I’ve done a good job to this point, but it’s something that I’m going to have to maintain for quite a while.”
Fortunately, the rehab process has gone relatively well for the 26-year-old forward, who is set to embark on his eighth NHL season in exactly one week. Despite a few inevitable setbacks along the way – like having his knee drained on several occasions – Pacioretty says things are getting back to normal at a good pace.
“I’ve been surprised. [My speed] is coming back quicker than I thought. I feel good right now,” shared Pacioretty, who was cleared for contact by team doctors on Monday, and skated for the first time without any restrictions at all on Wednesday morning at the Bell Sports Complex. “I still do have a little bit of a limp, but at the end of the day, skating is a little easier than walking because you’re gliding. I just feel much better on the ice than I do on dry land, and I think that’s to be expected from what the doctors have told me. I’m making progress.”
To keep his knee in check, the former Bill Masterton Trophy winner will be sporting a brace for the foreseeable future. While it certainly isn’t the most comfortable of add-ons, Pacioretty believes it won't hamper his style of play at all going forward.
“It’s a lot easier [wearing it] than if it would have happened mid-season. I was off the ice for four months. I kind of got used to it right away. Being off the ice for that long, it gave me time to try out new gear and try new skates. You know you’re going to feel bad no matter what, so you might as well make some changes then,” explained Pacioretty, who will line up alongside assistant captains Tomas Plekanec and Brendan Gallagher on Thursday night. “I’m thankful I was able to jump in with the brace right away, rather than do it during the year.”
Now, Pacioretty’s primary focus will be getting back into game shape as quickly as possible by making the most of every opportunity to hit the ice on Thursday night, and potentially on Saturday night in Ottawa, too.
“For practice, I feel 100 percent. I haven’t gotten into a game yet, so that’s a different story. When you’re skating alone, I think it’s harder conditioning than practice. My practice shape is there, but you can’t tell if you’re in game shape until you play one,” admitted Pacioretty, who, along with his wife, Katia, welcomed their second child, Maximus Raymond, in June. “Game shape is always different. We've got two more games left on the schedule. Normally, I play three or four exhibition games. If I can play two, I think it puts me in a good spot. I'm just hoping for the best.”
|Fans will have their first chance to see Pacioretty sporting the "C" at the Bell Centre on Thursday night. |
As is Pacioretty’s bench boss, who is eager to welcome the New Canaan, CT native back to his lineup against the Senators.
“Based on the way I’ve seen Max work since the middle of the summer, I’m not at all surprised. He worked so hard to get back to playing as quickly as possible. We’ll be taking the games one at a time and we’ll see how things go. But, we’re really happy that he’s back,” offered Therrien, who will surely be paying close attention to his charge in his first foray into game action of any kind since May 12. “Right now, he’s a little bit behind the other guys. I expected that. It’s important for him to play games. It’s good for his timing and his conditioning. You can be in shape, but game shape is another thing entirely. The best way to be in game shape is to play.”
Therrien’s troops are equally excited to see Pacioretty healthy again, too.
“He’s worked really hard to battle back. It’s always tough when you go through training camp and you’re not playing any games,” shared P.K. Subban, who was also named as one of Pacioretty’s assistant captains back on September 18. “The fact that he’s getting at least one game is important. He’ll be ready come the first game of the year.”
And, if lacing up his skates for real for the first time in 142 days wasn’t exciting enough, Thursday night’s tilt will also mark Pacioretty’s debut with the coveted “C” on his chest which will surely make his return to active duty even more memorable.
“It’s definitely going to be a special time for me. It’s preseason, but I still take a lot of pride in it. It’s going to be a lot of fun,” concluded Pacioretty. “I’m just trying to do the best that I can to get ready for that first game. I might not be perfect [against Ottawa], but that’s why this is training camp.”
Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.
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