Max Pacioretty to miss game vs. Canadiens; could be out weeks with injury

Max Pacioretty seen here at a Vegas Golden Knights practice. (Richard Brian/Las Vegas Review-Journal via AP)

LAS VEGAS — It’s a game Max Pacioretty had circled on his calendar. His first opportunity in a Vegas Golden Knights uniform to welcome the team he spent 10 years playing for to T-Mobile Arena.

But a lower-body injury, suffered in a game against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Dec. 17, is depriving the Connecticut native of playing host to the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday.

It’s a cruel twist of fate, no doubt.

We hoped to connect with Pacioretty upon landing in Las Vegas Friday to get his thoughts on missing Saturday’s game, on the severity of his injury, and on how he’s adjusted to life in Sin City in the short time he’s been here. But given his current status as a player on injured reserve, he wasn’t available.

“Every player wants to play and is disappointed when they can’t,” agent Allan Walsh said on his behalf.

How long Pacioretty will be sidelined for is anybody’s guess. The Golden Knights have yet to update on his status other than to say he’ll miss at least a week dating back to the 17th, and Walsh said he couldn’t provide a timeline. Sources indicated to us it could be more a matter of weeks rather than days.

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If that is in fact the case, consider it one more thing that hasn’t gone exactly according to plan for Pacioretty since he landed with the Golden Knights in the early-September trade that sent Tomas Tatar, Nick Suzuki and a 2019 second-round pick to the Canadiens.

He had arrived in the desert with a fresh lease on life after what was unquestionably the most challenging (and disappointing) season of his career. A season that saw him score only 17 goals and 37 points in 64 games. One that ended prematurely due to injury.

A new opportunity with the Golden Knights, thousands of miles removed from the pressure of being captain of the Canadiens in Montreal, presented the 30-year-old left-winger a chance to free his mind. As he put it back on Sept. 12, “I have the opportunity right now to just take out my brain and go play hockey, get back to what I loved doing as a kid, and that’s just going out there and having fun.”

Getting back to his 30-goal scoring ways was supposed to be the product of that, but that was jeopardized when things got off to a rocky beginning — even with the distraction of playing for a new contract removed upon signing a four-year, $28-million extension with Vegas just hours after he was traded on Sept. 10.

A chance to play on a line with a childhood friend in Paul Stastny was supposed to allow for a smooth transition for Pacioretty with his new team. It was something he mentioned in his Goodbye-Montreal-Hello-Vegas piece for the Players’ Tribune.

Then real life hit three games into the season, when Stastny suffered a knee injury that would keep him out of action for two months. The Golden Knights — and Pacioretty — subsequently stumbled out to surprisingly bad start.

When he arrived in Montreal back on Nov. 9, Pacioretty had been limited to two goals and zero assists and was sporting a minus-4 rating. A suspected concussion had limited him to appearing in just 12 of Vegas’ 16 games, and the team — with or without him
— hadn’t found a way to get closer than to within four points of the playoff picture.

The Golden Knights left the Bell Centre after a 5-4 loss to the Canadiens had sunk them to 7-9-4 and owning the league’s 25th-best record, and Pacioretty hadn’t enjoyed the return to the only other NHL city he had ever called home. At least not as he expected to.

It wasn’t until a few days later that Pacioretty’s game — and that of the Golden Knights — really started to pick up. He produced eight goals from Nov. 18-29, and the team hit its stride and started to accumulate wins.

Some bumps kept Pacioretty from games on Dec. 4 and Dec. 14, but they hadn’t stopped him from managing 17 points in 15 games, raising his season totals to 10 goals and 19 points in the lead up to Monday’s game with Columbus.

It was a pace Pacioretty appeared ready to sustain, and Stastny’s return just two days prior would only help. They were finally paired together again — alongside Alex Tuch — when, on the line’s seventh shift of the game, Pacioretty got into an awkward collision with Columbus centre Riley Nash that forced him to the sidelines.

Given all of that, it’s safe to say adjusting to life in Vegas has been considerably easier for Pacioretty than the hockey part.

“Max and his family have settled in fairly quickly into their new life in Vegas,” said Walsh. “It’s never easy picking up and moving a big family across the continent in a short timeframe, especially with a baby on the way. They’ve moved into a new home, the boys are thriving at their new school and playing minor hockey in Vegas.”

Unfortunately, Dad won’t be playing pro hockey against his former team this weekend.

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