TORONTO — The weather? The fan recognition? The history? The style of play? The pre-game theatrics?
The biggest difference Max Pacioretty says he has noticed since being traded from hockey’s most storied franchise to its least is the media.
That’s a telling statement from a man who gave the first decade of his pro career — the past three seasons with a C on his chest, rumours in his ear and an unshakable weight on his shoulders — to a passionate city before quickly re-upping for four more in Vegas, a town that lightens moods as quickly as it does wallets.
“The media is much different there,” Pacioretty said Monday, as Canadiens fans count down to his Bell Centre return Saturday.
“Expectations are in every organization to win, but in a Canadian market, everybody knows you have to answer the questions about those expectations every day. That’s the biggest difference I’ve seen, and it leads to a lot of positivity.
“Any market, when things are going well, it’s easy to say the atmosphere is great. In tough times, that’s when you really get a good test of what the atmosphere will be like, what type of people you have in the organization.”
In reading that quote again, one can imagine a shelf of untold stories between the lines.
A month into their union, neither Pacioretty nor the Knights, your defending Western Conference champs, have exactly stormed the castle gates.
Absent of star power and juiced-up shooting percentages, the Knights, so magical last fall, have looked rather ordinary at 6-7-1, slinking to the perimeter of the playoff picture.
The only team with a worse goals-per-game average than the Knights’ 2.29, the L.A. Kings, fired their coach Sunday.
“We were faced with a lot of adversity early on with injuries and a bit of a tough start and with [Nate Schmidt] being out, but the atmosphere never changed. It says a lot about the culture of this team and why they had success last year,” said Pacioretty.
He noted that it’s not the volume of reporters but the line of questioning that’s more reasonable playing a winter sport in Nevada.
“It’s a bit more realistic. You don’t sit up front every day and answer questions about how bad you are. It’s completely different in that sense, but at the same time expectations on any team is Stanley Cup or bust,” said Pacioretty.
The exiled captain hasn’t been watching Montreal’s victories. He has, however, taken notice of the Habs’ shiny 7-4-2 record since his departure, which has raised our eyebrows, if not his.
“I don’t think it’s surprising,” Pacioretty, 29, said. “A lot of guys have really stepped up and bounced back really well. That seems to be the case oftentimes 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.”
As for his relationship with GM Marc Bergevin?
“No hard feelings,” Pacioretty said, but only that.
For his homecoming — a date that can’t come and go soon enough — Pacioretty quipped that he might turn off his phone, for fear of fulfilling so many ticket requests that he’ll max out his credit card.
“It’s a distraction, as you would expect it to be, playing there for so long and being the captain. But it’ll be nice to get it out of the way and hopefully I’m able to play in it and hopefully we can have some success,” he said. “It’ll be fun to go back. Hopefully I play.”
Ah, yes. Health has been a concern for the team in white gloves. Three weeks into their second season, the Golden Knights lost their workhorse shutdown defenceman, Schmidt, to drug suspension and two-thirds of their expensive, renovated second line to injury.
Free-agent splash signing Paul Stastny (lower body) is still sidelined for weeks if not months with a lower-body injury, and Pacioretty has missed four games since taking a hard shoulder to the face from Tampa Bay defenceman Braydon Coburn early in Oct. 26’s defeat at home.
“I got hit right in the nose, really. That part of it, obviously people would question it, but I think what transpired and what happened leading up to the hit was uncontrollable. It probably was just a hockey play,” Pacioretty said.
“I really felt my game and the team’s game was starting to come around and then — boom — I got hurt right away, second shift of the game. That’s frustrating,” elaborates Pacioretty, who has two goals, no assists and a minus-4 rating through 10 games.
“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. But that was all out of my control.”
The suspicion of a concussion has been neither been confirmed nor denied by the team, and Pacioretty chuckled Monday at the fact he couldn’t recall the official description of his ailment.
The star winger participated in his first intense, full-contact practice since getting rocked in the head, working the left flank on power-play reps and rushing the ice alongside Alex Tuch and Erik Haula on the second line.
As he peeled off his gear and absorbed chirps from his teammates over the gust of Canadian media attention, Pacioretty said he felt healthy but that his availability Tuesday night versus the Maple Leafs won’t be confirmed until after the morning skate.
“Well, it definitely doesn’t help your hockey club, but you can’t use it for an excuse,” Knights coach Gerard Gallant said of the three-headed injury bug. “The problem was the puck wasn’t going in the net like everybody else, and when you’re a key player like [Pacioretty] and you come to a new team, you want results right away — and he wasn’t getting them. But he’s playing fine and working hard and he’s going to be a big part of our group.
“It’s going to be a big night in Montreal.”
The media might even show up.