TAMPA, Fla. — Max Pacioretty said he didn’t spend one second thinking about hockey during the Canadiens’ rare five days off from the game.
Pacioretty had plenty to occupy his mind because his wife, Katia, gave birth to the couple’s first child — a boy named Lorenzo — in the wee hours of Christmas Eve.
“He did us a favour because he was a few days late,” said Pacioretty, who flew from Nashville to his off-season home in Connecticut after the Canadiens’ 4-3 victory over the Predators on Dec. 21. “Everybody’s healthy and happy.”
The Canadiens resume their annual holiday road trip Saturday when they face the Tampa Bay Lightning (7 p.m., CBC, RDS, TSN Radio 690) and then head across the state to face the Florida Panthers Sunday with a 5 p.m. start.
“I think with the cramped-up schedule, it was much needed,” Pacioretty said of the break. “I think we were a little bit worn down. Our schedule was a little more crowded than some teams and it was good to get away and rejuvenate.”
Pacioretty and coach Michel Therrien both admitted there was a downside to the time off.
There were some heavy legs Friday afternoon as the players headed to the Lightning’s practice rink in suburban Brandon after a three-hour charter flight from Montreal. Therrien led the players through an hour-long workout that was heavy on skating.
“Obviously, with the kinks, it didn’t feel too good at practice, but hopefully it will be better tomorrow,” Pacioretty said.
Said Therrien: “For sure, tomorrow the execution won’t be 100 per cent, but it will be the same for both teams. But I liked the practice. The players looked good even though many of them haven’t touched a puck for five days. They looked fresh.”
One player who did sneak in a little work was goaltender Carey Price. He said the layoff wouldn’t have any effect on the goaltenders’ timing, but said that he managed to see a few pucks on Boxing Day.
While Pacioretty was taking his break from hockey, he was the subject of trade rumours in New York.
“It’s a business, and people can write what they want, but I’ve learned to block that stuff out,” Pacioretty said. “I can’t let those things distract me.”
The Tampa game has taken on some added significance because the Lightning and Canadiens are now in the same division and Tampa is currently two points ahead of Montreal,
While Pacioretty said it was just another game, he noted that the annual games in Florida attract a large number of Canadiens fans and “it’s good to have that support and we want to win for them and give them something to feel good about it.”
He added: “It’s going to be a tough game. Obviously, they miss (Steven Stamkos) but they still have a lot of firepower and they’re a team that comes to play every night. It’s a challenge for us.”
Josh Gorges, who was a last-minute scratch in Nashville, was skating at full speed in practice and will return to the lineup. He had a lower-body injury, the result of blocking a shot with his leg on Dec. 19 in St. Louis.
“The rest came at the right time,” Gorges said. “It was good to have five or six days off. You’re never 100 per cent, but it was tough being in a position where you’re not able to help the team.”
Raphael Diaz was the extra defenceman at practice Friday, but Therrien cautioned reporters not to read anything into that.
“We have decisions to make and we’ll make them tomorrow,” the coach said.
Therrien did confirm Price will be starting in goal and Peter Budaj will get the start Sunday against the Panthers.
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