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Canadiens' Pacioretty to return to lineup Thursday

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Montreal Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty will make his preseason debut Thursday against the Ottawa Senators at Bell Centre, coach Michel Therrien said after practice Wednesday.

Pacioretty began practicing with the Canadiens this week as he completed his recovery from fractures in the tibial plateau of his left knee, an injury sustained July 9 during offseason training in Florida.

The original prognosis for recovery from the injury was 12 weeks, and Thursday marks exactly 12 weeks since Pacioretty was injured.

There was some question as to whether Pacioretty would be ready for the Canadiens' regular-season opener at the Toronto Maple Leafs on Oct. 7, but with him playing Thursday, that no longer appears to be a concern.

"To be able to play some games is important," Therrien said. "It's important for his timing and for his conditioning. You can be in shape, but being in game shape is something different. So it's important to play some games. The only way you can be in game shape is to play games, so being able to play [Thursday] will help him for his start to the season."

Pacioretty said he went for a scan of his knee Monday, practiced that day and spoke to the doctor afterward, which is when he received clearance to take contact. The Canadiens were off Tuesday, so practice Wednesday was Pacioretty's first with contact, and he said he felt good afterward.

So good, in fact, that he feels better on the ice than he does off of it.

"I still do have a little bit of a limp, but at the end of the day, skating's a little bit easier than walking because you're gliding," Pacioretty said. "I just feel much better on the ice than I do on dry land. I think that's to be expected from what the doctors have told me. So I feel good; I've made good progress."

Pacioretty said he will be wearing a brace on the knee Thursday and will keep it on longer than originally was planned. He said the injury occurring in the offseason made getting accustomed to wearing a brace easier because it felt like just another new piece of equipment he had to break in along with the rest of his gear.

"It's a lot easier than if it were to happen midseason," Pacioretty said.

Pacioretty practiced Wednesday on a line with center Tomas Plekanec and right wing Brendan Gallagher, and Therrien said they will be together Thursday, forming what could be considered Montreal's top line.

It also will be the first time Pacioretty will play a game with the captain's C on his jersey. He was voted captain by his teammates Sept. 18.

Pacioretty led the Canadiens last season with 37 goals and 67 points in 80 games.

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