TORONTO – Underestimating Max Pacioretty any time of year would be a serious mistake, but he’s developing a reputation for being particularly clutch on opening night.
For the second straight season, the newly minted Canadiens captain scored the first goal of the year league-wide – before adding an empty-netter late in the third period – to lead Michel Therrien’s troops to a 3-1 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre.
Not only did Wednesday night’s tilt mark the 400th game of Pacioretty’s NHL career, but it also marked his first regular season contest sporting the coveted “C” on his jersey which made the victory even more memorable.
“It’s exciting because our team showed flashes of what we’re capable of doing. We didn’t put together 60 minutes, but it’s definitely inspiring knowing that we’re able to play a certain way. I think when we’re on our game, we’re a very tough team to play against,” offered Pacioretty, whose squad was outshot by a 37-30 margin, but managed to come away with two points as Alex Galchenyuk scored the go-ahead goal with just under eight minutes remaining in regulation time. “There were small details of what we liked, and then there were times when we got away from it. That’s when we ran into trouble. It’s something to build off of. There were definitely flashes of positives. We know we have more in this room, and it’s inspiring.”
“Inspiring” might just be the best way to describe the way Pacioretty went about his business in the Canadiens’ season-opener. An offensive threat all game long, the 26-year-old winger generated five shots on goal while logging 18:07 of ice time after spending the bulk of the summer rehabbing from left tibia plateau fractures he sustained in early July while training in Florida. He also had just two preseason games under his belt before hitting the ice at the ACC.
“I had a lot to prove. Some people told me they didn’t think I’d be ready or people maybe doubted it. But, I wanted to come out and play a strong game. I think that our line did that,” praised Pacioretty, who lined up alongside Tomas Plekanec and Brendan Gallagher on Wednesday night. “I think we were pretty lethal. We had a lot of opportunities to score, but we were pretty sound defensively, too. That’s what I liked most about our game.”
More importantly, Pacioretty says his recent injury didn’t have any effect on his game at all. In short, he felt perfectly comfortable plying his trade in the Canadiens’ first meaningful contest since May 12 against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
“I didn’t feel tentative. I think I was pretty good. I know that I’ve gotten the support from the trainers and the doctors to get the green light. That’s fresh in my mind. An Injury off the ice, sometimes you won’t be as tentative as if it happened in a game, so I felt good. I was surprised with how good I felt. But, I know there’s still a long way to go,” admitted Pacioretty, who became just the fourth captain in franchise history to light the lamp in their first game in that role, joining the likes of Toe Blake, Yvan Cournoyer and Vincent Damphousse. “It’s definitely a good feeling, but I know my game wasn’t perfect. I know I have a lot to improve on. In the gym – and in the game, a couple of times there – I haven’t been as strong as I would have liked to be. That’s something that’s going to be a process as the season goes on, but I’m willing to put in the work to be 100 percent.”
That positive outlook shouldn’t come as a surprise, especially from a player like Pacioretty who has defied medical odds time and again while battling a host of injuries over the years. It’s what has allowed him not only to return to active duty earlier than expected, but also to be a veritable force at both ends of the rink.
“I love playing here. First game of the year, it’s a great place to play. It’s a great rivalry. This is one of my favourite places to play because you’re always in for a tight game. The crowd is into it and it’s a lot of fun,” offered Pacioretty, who has been the Canadiens’ leading point-getter the last four years running. “I was a bit lucky both times [with my goals]. It’s nice, but it’s just one game. Now, it’s time to put it behind us and get better day by day. That’s our team’s goal – improve every day. That’s my personal goal, too.”
Well said, Max. Well said.
Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com
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