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Canadiens' Pacioretty has assist in preseason debut

by Arpon Basu / NHL.com

MONTREAL -- This was no regular preseason game for Max Pacioretty.

Pacioretty made his preseason debut Thursday in a 5-2 Montreal Canadiens loss to the Ottawa Senators at Bell Centre.

Not only was it his first game since recovering from fractures to the tibial plateau below his left knee, it was also Pacioretty's first game wearing the "C" on his jersey since being voted captain by his teammates on Sept. 18.

He admitted that it took some time to get used to the whole situation.

"It was a very special feeling," Pacioretty said. "It's obviously just preseason, but I still took a lot of pride in wearing that. After I settled down a little bit, I got back to playing my game and being myself."

The adjustment to playing his first game so late in training camp, when the pace is significantly quicker, was another hurdle Pacioretty had to clear.

"Different plays felt a little weird at times because I hadn't played in so long, like plays on the wall, getting my timing back," he said. "But I thought as the game went on I got a little bit better."

Pacioretty played 15:29 and had an assist on Nathan Beaulieu's goal at 9:52 of the first period just as a Canadiens power play expired. He fed the defenseman with a pass through the crease from the goal line for a tap-in goal. He called it the easiest assist of his career.

What wasn't easy was getting his knee tested against live competition for the first time, and Pacioretty got that chance in the second period when he was hauled down while driving the net by Senators center Zack Smith.

"It was definitely a test because I'm planting with that leg and trying to stop so I don't run into the goalie and the net, but at the same time, I've got someone leaning on me and pulling in a different direction," Pacioretty said. "I was maybe not as strong as if I'm midseason form, but it's one of those times I'm probably thinking about it and testing it. I'm happy with how it reacted."

Pacioretty played with Tomas Plekanec and Brendan Gallagher on what will be Montreal's top line to start the season, and they generated a few chances, particularly on the power play.

It was also Pacioretty's first game in the knee brace he will wear for an indefinite amount of time this season, and he said it took some time to get used to that too.

"I noticed [the brace], but as the game goes on, you completely forget about it," Pacioretty said. "It's just like anything else. It sounds weird, but you kind of have to warm up the brace as you go along. You put it on and maybe it feels a little tight and you think you have to adjust it, but as you get warm, the brace kind of gets warm with your body, and you feel a little more natural."

Canadiens coach Michel Therrien did not expect Pacioretty to immediately jump in and look like his old self, so he was happy with what he saw from his top scorer of the 2014-15 season.

"I thought to be able to make a comeback a week before we start the season, he needed to go through that process," Therrien said. "For sure, the guys that have been there since Day One, their level of conditioning is a bit higher, and he's starting right now. So that's stage one, but it's nice to see him back out there."

Pacioretty is expected to play in Montreal's final game of the preseason Saturday against the Senators at Canadian Tire Centre.

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