Capitals’ Max Pacioretty plays his 1st game since re-tearing his right Achilles tendon

WASHINGTON (AP) — For more than two months, Max Pacioretty considered hanging up his skates and retiring from the NHL.

Tearing his right Achilles tendon twice in less than a year left him in bed after another surgery awaiting more rehab, unable to travel with his kids to their hockey tournaments or live a normal life. Then he came to the realization he wasn’t ready to give up on playing.

On Wednesday night, Pacioretty played his first game since Jan. 19 when he and the Washington Capitals hosted the New Jersey Devils.

“It’s important for me to do this for myself but also for my family and my kids to kind of show them that we can get through this together,” the 35-year-old veteran said recently. “I know I have so much more hockey in the tank.”

That’s what the Capitals were banking on when they signed Pacioretty last summer, fully understanding he wouldn’t be ready for at least the first quarter of the season, if not longer. The six-time 30-goal scorer jumps in 35 games in, with Washington among the lowest-scoring teams in the league.

“We got to find a way to score more goals, and that’s what he does,” general manager Brian MacLellan said upon signing Pacioretty to an incentive-laden one-year contract.

The Capitals did their due diligence, MacLellan said, with head trainer Jason Serbus and Dr. John Klimkiewicz talking to the surgeon who repaired Pacioretty’s tendon. There’s still some risk involved, but he and the team have taken things slowly after concerns he rushed back last January to play for Carolina.

“Obviously, I had to do something different than the first time,” Pacioretty said. “We’re handling this entirely differently from the surgery to the rehab to the treatment to the progressions. … It’s just an entirely different program.”

The program involved Pacioretty resuming skating in early November and gradually ramping up to practicing with the team. The Connecticut native at the time said getting back on the ice gave him some welcome normalcy.

“Definitely have much more of a smile on my face now,” he said. “I feel like I’m getting my life back.”

Pacioretty is back with a different right skate boot than before because the surgically-repaired tendon is bigger now. But that hasn’t stopped him from feeling like his old self shooting the puck, something he’s done among the NHL’s best since making his debut for Montreal in 2008.

Between then and the end of the 2021-22 season, only 16 players have scored more goals than Pacioretty in his time with the Canadiens and then the Vegas Golden Knights.

“Everybody knows Max: He’s an elite player,” said Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin, who owns the top spot on that list. “We’re going to have another big weapon in our lineup.”

It was a globetrotting journey back into a lineup for Pacioretty, who saw specialists from the U.S. and Canada to Germany and Finland. Now confident he has a grasp of what happened — and back before facing the Hurricanes on Friday — he just wants to stay healthy and get back into a groove.

“This is what I was born to do,” Pacioretty said, “and I want to do this as long as I can.”



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