MONTREAL — If there is one person on the Golden Knights’ roster who can relate to what Max Pacioretty is going through, it’s Marc-Andre Fleury.
While nearly every player had a homecoming of sorts against his former team last season, the veteran goaltender made an emotional return to Pittsburgh after 14 seasons.
His advice to Pacioretty?
“I’m sure he’s going to have a lot of requests for tickets or passes, people coming to watch the game,” Fleury noted, “so you just have to deal with it early.”
Pacioretty was way ahead of his teammate in that department.
“I turned off my phone so I don’t have to max out my credit card,” he quipped.
Pacioretty, who spent 10 seasons in Montreal, returns to Bell Centre for the first time as a visiting player Saturday when the Knights face the Canadiens.
The Habs’ former captain was bombarded by questions from the Canadian media at the first two stops of the road trip, and the spotlight will shine on him even brighter here.
“It’s a distraction, as you would expect it to be, playing there for so long and being the captain,” Pacioretty said this week. “People mentioned that it’s probably good to get it out of the way early, and it probably is. Obviously, guys will be talking about it a lot in the (locker) room, and it’ll be fun to go back.”
Pacioretty produced five 30-goal seasons in his time with the Canadiens but slumped to 17 goals in 64 games last season. As trade rumors swirled, Pacioretty was forced to shoulder much of the blame for Montreal’s disappointing record.
With the club looking to rebuild, Pacioretty was dealt to the Knights on Sept. 9 in exchange for forward Tomas Tatar, prospect Nick Suzuki and a second-round pick in the 2019 draft. The left wing then signed a four-year, $28 million contract extension with the Knights.
“It was much easier than I thought,” Pacioretty said. “This is a group that they had a lot of success last year because of what type of group they do have. The transition has been seamless.”
Pacioretty’s relationship with the Canadiens soured by the end of his time with the team, and general manager Marc Bergevin and owner Geoff Molson told reporters the day after the deal to the Knights that Pacioretty requested a trade during last season.
Pacioretty said those discussions were misinterpreted and that he has “no hard feelings” toward Bergevin. But the breakup could make for an interesting reception from Canadiens fans when he takes the ice for the first time.
“It was such a special moment that I will never forget,” Fleury said of his return to Pittsburgh. “Obviously we’ve got a big game to play and a game to win, but the emotions you get from this game, the people, the welcome, it’s something he will cherish forever.”
Pacioretty hasn’t kept close tabs on his former team but said he isn’t surprised the Canadiens opened 8-5-3 and are alone in third place in the Atlantic Division.
He was off to a slow start with the Knights before missing four games with a suspected concussion from a shoulder to the face by Tampa Bay defenseman Braydon Coburn on Oct. 26.
Pacioretty played both games of the road trip and has two goals in 12 appearances while shuffling through multiple linemates.
“Our team had a little bit of a tough start. He was playing fine, he was working hard,” coach Gerard Gallant said. “The problem was the puck wasn’t going in the net, like everybody else, and when you’re a key player like that and you come to a new team, you want results right away — and he wasn’t getting them.
“But I’m not worried about Max. He’s been around a long time, and obviously it’s going to be a big night in Montreal.”
Who: Golden Knights at Canadiens
When: 4 p.m. Saturday
Where: Bell Centre, Montreal
TV: AT&T SportsNet (Cox 313/1313, DirecTV 684, CenturyLink 760/1760, U-verse 757/1757, DISH 414/5414)
Radio: KRLV (98.9 FM, 1340 AM)