‘It’ll be fun to go back’

Pa­cioretty near­ing re­turn from in­jury with Mon­treal visit loom­ing

Sentinel-Review (Woodstock) - - NEWS - JOSHUA CLIP­PER­TON

TORONTO — Max Pa­cioretty was never both­ered by life in the spot­light.

Some of the ques­tions he faced daily as cap­tain of the Mon­treal Cana­di­ens — es­pe­cially when things weren’t go­ing well — were an­other story.

Traded to the Ve­gas Golden Knights be­fore the start of train­ing camp, Pa­cioretty’s rou­tine no longer in­cludes a throng of cam­eras, mi­cro­phones and notepads wait­ing for him at his locker. There might be a cou­ple af­ter a game or prac­tice, or per­haps none at all.

“Ob­vi­ously the me­dia is much dif­fer­ent,” Pa­cioretty said fol­low­ing Mon­day’s on-ice ses­sion in Toronto. “Ex­pec­ta­tions are there in ev­ery or­ga­ni­za­tion. “But in a Cana­dian mar­ket ev­ery­body knows you have to an­swer the ques­tions about those ex­pec­ta­tions ev­ery­day.”

Set to be­come an un­re­stricted free agent next sum­mer and with his fu­ture in Mon­treal very much in doubt, Pa­cioretty signed a four-year con­tract ex­ten­sion with Ve­gas worth US$28 mil­lion through 2022-2023 the same day he was ac­quired for winger To­mas Tatar, for­ward prospect Nick Suzuki and a sec­ond-round draft pick.

“It’s a bit more re­al­is­tic,” Pa­cioretty added of his re­la­tion­ship with re­porters in the Ne­vada desert. “You don’t sit up front ev­ery­day and an­swer ques­tions about how bad you are.”

Voted cap­tain of the Habs by team­mates in 2015, Pa­cioretty has been out of the Knights’ lineup with an up­per-body in­jury since get­ting hurt Oct. 26. The 29-year-old winger took part

You don’t sit up front ev­ery­day and an­swer ques­tions about how bad you are.”

Max Pa­cioretty on the dif­fer­ences in deal­ing with the me­dia in Las Ve­gas com­pared to the me­dia in Mon­treal

in his first full-con­tact prac­tice Mon­day and could face the Maple Leafs on Tues­day.

Ve­gas, which made it all the way to last sea­son’s Stan­ley Cup fi­nal in a stun­ning ex­pan­sion cam­paign, then trav­els to the na­tion’s cap­i­tal Thurs­day to meet the Ot­tawa Sen­a­tors be­fore Pa­cioretty’s loom­ing re­turn to Mon­treal on Satur­day. Pa­cioretty scored 226 goals and added 222 as­sists in 626 games to go along with 19 points (10 goals, nine as­sists) in 38 play­off con­tests dur­ing his 10 sea­sons with the Cana­di­ens.

Asked how many ticket re­quests he has re­ceived for this week­end, Pa­cioretty joked his phone has been turned off “so I don’t have to max out my credit card.” “Peo­ple men­tioned it was prob­a­bly good to get it out of the way early,” he said of play­ing at the Bell Cen­tre as a vis­i­tor. “It’ll be fun to go back. Hope­fully I play.”

Pa­cioretty had two goals in nine games plus two shifts be­fore be­ing side­lined for a team that also lost Paul Stastny — who signed a three-year, $19.5-mil­lion con­tract in free agency on July 1 — to a lower-body in­jury Oct. 8 that could keep the cen­tre out un­til De­cem­ber.

That’s on top of the Knights still be­ing with­out de­fence­man Nate Sch­midt as he con­tin­ues to serve is 20-game sus­pen­sion for vi­o­lat­ing the NHL’s per­for­manceen­hanc­ing drug pol­icy.

“We dug our­selves a lit­tle bit of a hole to start the year,” Pa­cioretty said. “If you don’t pick up points and you’re not play­ing, you just feel like you’ve got to get back out there and help your team.”

Four points out of a play­off spot, but also just six back of the Pa­cific Di­vi­sion lead, the Knights (6-7-1) en­tered Mon­day sec­ond­last in the NHL with an av­er­age of 2.29 goals scored per game, down sig­nif­i­cantly from last sea­son’s mark of 3.27 when they fin­ished fifth in the stand­ings with 109 points.

Ve­gas has sim­i­lar goals-against num­bers com­pared to last year (2.74 in 2017-18 and 2.71 this sea­son), while the team ranks fifth in shots for (33.5), sec­ond in shots against (25.2) and owns the league’s third-best even­strength shot dif­fer­en­tial at 57.70 per cent.

But the Knights also have the NHL’s worst 5-on-5 shoot­ing per­cent­age at 5.6, while their save per­cent­age at even strength is .898 (28th over­all) for a last­place shoot­ing per­cent­age plus save per­cent­age, also known as PDO, of 954.

The league’s 28th-ranked power play also hasn’t helped.

“We’ve played bet­ter than our record,” Ve­gas head coach Ger­ard Gal­lant said. “Ev­ery­thing seems to be a lit­tle tougher than it was last year. Last year ... the puck luck was go­ing our way.

“We gotta push through it.” Pa­cioretty, who was ini­tially on a line with Stastny, is look­ing for­ward to build­ing more chem­istry with Alex Tuch and Erik Haula when­ever he re­turns to ac­tion. “I was re­ally start­ing to feel my game,” he said.

“Some of the best I’ve played in a long time.”

Pa­cioretty took the high road when asked his opin­ion of Cana­di­ens gen­eral man­ager Marc Bergevin with a brief “no hard feel­ings,” adding that he’s im­pressed with his old team’s start fol­low­ing a mis­er­able show­ing last sea­son.

“A lot of guys have re­ally stepped up and bounced back,” Pa­cioretty said. “That seems to be the case of­ten times in big mar­kets and then also when there’s less pres­sure, less ex­pec­ta­tion. You saw with Ve­gas last year with the ex­pec­ta­tions and how they did.

“It’s eas­ier to skate down the ice when you don’t have that on your shoul­ders.”

A weight and bur­den Pa­cioretty now longer has to worry about.

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILES

Ve­gas winger Max Pa­cioretty, left, vies for the puck with Van­cou­ver’s Der­rick Pouliot last month. Pa­cioretty is get­ting close to get­ting back in lineup af­ter miss­ing four games with an up­per-body in­jury.

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