Max Pacioretty reacts to playing first game since injury: ‘It just felt weird’

There were plenty of debates revolving around Zdeno Chara’s notorious hit on Max Pacioretty. On one side, there were angry fans who looked at that ugly moment as a predatory push rather than an unsettling accident. Conversely, others felt like Chara and Pacioretty were the victims of bad timing (not to mention questionable arena design).

That being said, aside from one embarrassing comment by Mark Recchi, the general consensus was of concern for Pacioretty’s health. Some wondered if the promising Montreal Canadiens forward would ever play again.

You never really know how far along a player truly is until he starts to play in legitimate NHL games, but Pacioretty seems like he’s making some amazing progress. Wednesday marked an impressive milestone for Pacioretty, who suited up for the Big Assist charity game. Pacioretty discussed what it felt like to participate in what he told NHL.com was “the most competitive outing he’s had since the injury.”

“It felt … I don’t know, I guess it just felt weird,” Pacioretty said following the game. “It was weird at first, but as the game went on I think I felt a little more comfortable, and I’m looking forward now to gaining some momentum off of that.”

Pacioretty reportedly skated on a line with Martin St. Louis and Matt Moulson, picking up a goal and two assists. As great as that must have felt, the best moments probably came when fans showed their support for the recovering winger.

At the rink Wednesday, Pacioretty was a fan favorite. The fans erupted when his name was called in pregame introductions, and dozens of kids waited behind his team’s bench after each period to get his autograph.

“It’s good to see so many people care about hockey in the area, and my experience in particular,’ said Pacioretty, who grew up in nearby New Canaan, Conn. “It’s the one positive I can get out of my experience, that a lot of people have shown me great support and have stuck with me through the situation.”

The report indicates that Pacioretty thinks that he’s back to his pre-injury form, if not stronger. He’s had an unusual amount of time to train and he hopes to ride that momentum into next season. Pacioretty also said that he’s ready to put that hit behind him.

“The past is the past, and I can dwell on it as much as I want, but that will do me no good,” he said. “So I’m going to do everything I can to work toward the future and get ready for next year.”

WATCH LIVE: Blackhawks at Penguins – Wednesday Night Rivalry

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The latest edition of NBCSN’s Wednesday Night Rivalry presents quite the treat: the Chicago Blackhawks at the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Both teams are at 103 standings points and each squad already punched a ticket to the playoffs. Even so, they’re dealing with mini-slumps that they’d like to work out tonight.

For all we know, this could be a preview of what would be one extremely fun, high-profile 2017 Stanley Cup Final. Either way, it’s a showcase of two premiere franchises brimming with star power.

You can watch on NBCSN, online and via NBC Sports App. Click here for the livestream.

Yes, NHL will share protected, available player lists for expansion draft

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We can debate all day how much the NHL, Vegas Golden Knights and others involved really want to do this, but they’re making the right choice with the expansion draft nonetheless. The league will make protected and available players lists available at the same time they’re shared with teams, according to NHL.com’s Nick Cotsonika.

(The NHL tweeted out as much, too.)

Could this lead to feelings being hurt or perhaps even certain sneaky deals being scuttled? Perhaps, but those are headaches that management should be expected to absorb.

The bottom line is that an expansion draft is a dream come true for armchair GMs, rumor enthusiasts, fantasy sports fans and … really, just about anyone interested in hockey. It would be a bewildering decision to try to keep all of this information locked down, even for a league that frequently garners a reputation for choosing comfort over entertainment value.

Cotsonika reports that such lists will probably be made available on June 18, though that isn’t set in stone.

(If you’re the type to take off work if a trade deadline was exciting, you might want to start drumming up excuses/putting aside vacation time/practicing your best “I’m sick” voice just in case …)

Cap Friendly provides a handy timeline for the expansion draft process:

Goalie nods: Blues give Hutton first start in two weeks

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Even though Jake Allen has played extremely well of late, Carter Hutton will get the call when the Blues take on the Coyotes in Arizona tonight.

Some of this could have to do with the opponent. The Coyotes are playing out the string on a forgettable campaign, and have lost six of their last seven. That includes a 4-1 defeat in St. Louis on Monday (in which Allen stopped 27 of 28 shots for the win).

As mentioned above, Allen has been great in March and deserves huge praise for turning his season around. He’s gone 8-1-1 this month with a remarkable .951 save percentage, allowing a mere 14 goals over his 10 appearances.

Hutton, though, has played equally well when called upon. He’s gone 4-1-0 over his last five starts, posting a .962 save percentage and a pair of shutouts. In his last outing, on Mar. 16, he allowed just one goal in a victory in San Jose.

For the Coyotes, Louis Domingue is in goal.

Elsewhere…

— A good matchup in Pittsburgh tonight, as the two defending Stanley Cup champions go head-to-head. Marc-Andre Fleury starts for the Penguins, while Corey Crawford goes for the Blackhawks.

— Calgary can clinch a playoff spot with a win tonight so, unsurprisingly, it’ll go with No. 1 Brian Elliott. No word yet on who starts for the visiting Kings, though it could be Ben Bishop after Jonathan Quick lost last night in Edmonton.

Philipp Grubauer gets the call for Washington, after Braden Holtby led the Caps to victory in Minnesota on Tuesday. Grubauer will take on Calvin Pickard, who starts for the Avs.

Vegas wants ‘progressive’ head coach, says McPhee

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Golden Knights GM George McPhee continued to list the characteristics he wants from a head coach this week, explaining that he’s searching for a forward-thinking bench boss.

“We want someone who is very current on the game, who is progressive on how the game should be played,” McPhee said in a recent phone call with season ticket holders, per the club website. “We’re looking for that progressive guy that can really help us through the early years and help develop our team and our players.”

So, time to connect the dots.

Back in November, Vegas owner Bill Foley laid the initial groundwork for McPhee’s coaching profile, saying he wanted to hire an experienced head coach.

“He’s not looking for a first-termer,” said Foley. “Some may or may not be available. … I would say the coach that we name is going to be a recognizable individual.”

Among the names that have already been floated, many fit the above billing: Jack Capuano, Gerard Gallant, Ken Hitchcock and Michel Therrien, among others.

Vegas has already spoken with Gallant and reportedly made contact with Capuano as well, which shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Gallant was nominated for last year’s Jack Adams as the NHL’s top coach, and McPhee is familiar with Capuano, having worked as an adviser to Isles GM Garth Snow prior to taking the Golden Knights gig.

It’s also believed former Flyers head coach Craig Berube is being considered, along with current Montreal associate Kirk Muller.