DETROIT – Although Max Pacioretty has never played an NHL game at The Joe, Montreal’s forward has many fond memories of playing in Detroit’s arena dating back to his college days at the University of Michigan.
“I’ve obviously only played here in college and have had some great experiences here, won the CCHA here when I was in school,” Pacioretty said. “Obviously it’s great to come back, my sister goes to school in Ann Arbor so I got a lot of friends and family here and I can’t wait to get the game underway.”
Pacioretty helped the Wolverines to the CCHA title in 2007-08 before signing with the Canadiens and foregoing his remaining college eligibility. Now in his sixth NHL season, Pacioretty has only faced the Red Wings twice, and hopes to see the Original Six rivalry renewed with Detroit’s addition to the Eastern Conference’s Atlantic Division.
“We haven’t played them yet, and they’re obviously a powerhouse in this league,” Pacioretty said. “They’re facing a lot of injuries right now but it’d be cool to have some sort of Original Six rivalry. I think that was the purpose of making the divisions like that and we’ll see how it goes but it would be fun to build a little special rivalry between us and them.”
It’s been over three years since the Canadiens last played at Joe Louis Arena, and almost two years to the day that Detroit and Montreal faced off against each other. The last time the two clubs met was Jan. 25, 2012, but they will be seeing much more of each other in the future, as Friday’s matchup is just the first of four meetings between the divisional foes this season.
“This is going to be the first time we’re going to meet them so I know this is a team that got a lot of success in the past and they came to playoffs for over 20 years, quite an accomplishment,” Canadiens coach Michel Therrien said. “They’ve faced some adversity due to injuries, it’s tough to get some depth, any team in the NHL. They’re still fighting, they’re still in the picture.”
Montreal currently sits in fourth place in the Eastern Conference with 59 points, five points ahead of Detroit. While it’s no secret that the Red Wings have struggled with a host of injuries to their top players this season, they got three players back from injury this week.
Center Darren Helm and defenseman Jonathan Ericsson were welcomed back to Detroit’s lineup on Monday and Wednesday, respectively, and veteran forward Daniel Alfredsson will return against the Canadiens. Although they’re still without centers Pavel Datsyuk, Stephen Weiss and Joakim Andersson, forward Johan Franzen and goaltender Jimmy Howard, the Red Wings have won two of their last three games, including a 5-4 shootout victory over Chicago on Wednesday.
“They have obviously one of the best teams on paper in the league,” Pacioretty said. “They’ve faced a lot of adversity, they have a ton of injuries right now but the Detroit Red Wings always have that depth that every team wants and it shows what they have right now. They have so many guys out right now and they still find a way to get it down. It just shows how well run of an organization it is and they do a good job over here.”
Defenseman P.K. Subban knows it will be a hard-fought game on both ends of the ice that will only be intensified by the new divisional rivalry.
“I think they’re a good team, I mean we know the history of the Detroit Red Wings and the style that they play,” Subban said. “They have a lot of skilled players, they play a solid system and they’re disciplined so for our team, we gotta play our A game.
“This is a team that we need to get familiar playing against, we’re going to be playing against them for a while so we gotta make sure that we know that we got a lot of skill and talent, a lot of experience so we really gotta manage the puck and making sure that we have the right mindset.”
After going nearly two years without a single meeting, the Canadiens and Red Wings will have plenty of time to familiarize themselves with each other as new division rivals, which still sounds a little odd to Therrien.
“Yes, because first of all, this is our first game,” Therrien said. “But it’s an Original Six, it’s always special, even if they are not in your conference. For us, we saw that when Chicago came to our home. We hadn’t seen the Blackhawks in a long time. But it was a special game and tonight, I feel it’s going to be the same way. It’s good for the game.”