Max Pacioretty of the Montreal Canadiens was 52 minutes and 30 seconds away from the NHL’s Olympic break, and departing with Team USA to compete for gold in Sochi, when he crashed into the Carolina Hurricanes’ net on Saturday night.
He rolled over in pain, clutching his left arm and leaving the game for Montreal. He didn’t return for the second period and it was later announced he was done for the night with a “lower body injury.”
Here’s the injury:
Brett Bellemore was the Carolina defenseman that checked him while Pacioretty drove to the net, sending him off balance and into the left post. Nothing wrong with that play; Bellemore had position on him. Just an unfortunate result.
Really, really unfortunate.
Pacioretty made the U.S. team this season as a player whose speed would be an asset on the larger ice surface in Sochi. He was nervous about making the cut right until the announcement. “People are lying if they tell you they weren’t thinking about it at all but I did a good job of blocking it out,” he said to the Montreal Gazette.
We’ll update when the extent of his injury is known, but what if he can’t play in Sochi?
(UPDATE: Pacioretty said he still intends to play in Sochi. ''I went in pretty hard and I got the wind knocked out of me,'' said Pacioretty. '' I think the team wanted to play it safe and I think it was a good decision.'')
One name immediately springs to mind: Kyle Okposo of the New York Islanders, who has 58 points in 58 games, which is already a career best.
But the name that’ll be watched the most is Bobby Ryan of the Ottawa Senators, the most prominent snub for Team USA. He followed the roster cut with just three goals over his next 19 games.
Both players shoot right; Pacioretty shoots left. So does Brandon Saad of the Chicago Blackhawks, who brings that element of speed that Pacioretty does, although at 21 he’s far less experienced than the other two candidates.
Who would it be?
Ryan, even with this slump, might still be the best offensive player of the bunch, although Okposo’s been the best of the three this season. Thing is, Pacioretty probably wasn’t going to be in the top six for Team USA and management’s case for snubbing Ryan was that he wasn’t suited for third or fourth line minutes.
Another obvious factor: Distraction, as the public airing of criticism about Ryan in that Scott Burnside article means a litany of uncomfortable questions to kick off Team USA's time in Sochi.
So then we’re back at Okposo and Saad.
The key here: Team USA management’s obsession with speed in building the team. Could that trump Saad’s inexperience and land him on this roster? It might: Keep in mind Saad was a finalist for a roster spot before losing out to T.J. Oshie thanks to Oshie's chemistry with David Backes and his shootout prowess.
Hopefully Pacioretty is OK, and all of this is speculation. But if the Team USA braintrust needs to replace him, they have options.