Max Pacioretty played nearly the entire regular-season schedule in 2014-15, and the Montreal Canadiens wound up holding off the Tampa Bay Lightning and winning the Atlantic Division title. Montreal cannot afford to start next season without Pacioretty if it hopes to claim a second straight crown.
Pacioretty appeared in a career-high 80 games this past season, scoring 39 goals and a personal-best 67 points, as the Canadiens edged out Tampa Bay for first in the Atlantic. The 26-year-old led the team in both of those offensive categories, as well as a few others, which played a big role in claiming the division title.
Pacioretty also stood out among all players in plus-minus rating, finishing tied for the league lead with Tampa Bay’s Nikita Kucherov at plus-38. And his 10 game-winning goals were one shy of Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin for most in the NHL.
These are just a few of the reasons Montreal needs to have Pacioretty healthy and in the lineup.
But the start of the 2015-16 could be a question mark. Pacioretty suffered a knee injury during an off-ice workout on Thursday and is expected to miss 12 weeks.
If he needs the entire predicted recovery time, Pacioretty may have to skip Montreal’s entire training camp, which opens in mid-September. The start of the regular season also could be in jeopardy, as the Canadiens kick off the campaign on October 7 in Toronto against the Maple Leafs.
Should Pacioretty be sidelined at any time of the season, Montreal will need to find someone to take their game to the next level. Only three other Canadiens reached the 20-goal plateau last campaign and two that registered more than 50 points.
Tomas Plekanec ranked second in both categories, finishing with 26 goals and 60 points, while youngsters Brendan Gallagher (24 goals) and Alex Galchenyuk (20) rounded out the top four in tallies. P.K. Subban matched Plekanec for second place in points, while fellow defenseman Andrei Markov was fourth with 50.
David Desharnais likely wouldn’t be the answer, as he managed only 14 goals in 82 contests last season. Lars Eller’s 15 tallies left him one shy of his career high, while the 26-year-old Dane has yet to register more than 30 points in a campaign.
Pacioretty’s worth also shined through in the playoffs. The native of New Canaan, Connecticut topped the club with five goals, with Gallagher (three) the only other Canadien with more than two.
Given Pacioretty’s history, Montreal should expect him to be ready in time to face Toronto. He underwent an appendectomy in February 2013 and was to need three to four weeks to recover.
Instead, Pacioretty was back in action eight days after the procedure. At the start of 2013-14, the Canadiens said he would miss three weeks with a hamstring injury, but the left wing was in the lineup 16 days later.
The 2012 Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy winner, Pacioretty will not require surgery for his latest ailment. And if the Canadiens can get away with him missing just one or two games to start the campaign, they should count their lucky stars, because unless they get him some offensive support, Pacioretty will need to carry the team on his back for another season.