TORONTO - Max Pacioretty may never look at a hockey rink the same way again.
As the Montreal Canadiens winger prepared for his first regular-season game since being slammed into a stanchion on March 8, he made sure to check out the new curved glass installed in that area of the rink during Thursday's morning skate at Air Canada Centre.
The change has been made in all 30 arenas around the NHL this season — a reminder of the devastating hit Bruins captain Zdeno Chara put on Pacioretty, who suffered a concussion and non-displaced vertebral fracture on the play.
"There still is a divider there and there still is the ability to make a vicious hit there and cause injury," Pacioretty said before Montreal opened the season against the Toronto Maple Leafs. "I'm just going to be more aware of my surroundings. They did a good job of making it safer, but still there is a bad area of the ice because of the benches.
"It's a step in the right direction, but I've got to be cautious and aware of where I am on the ice."
The Habs are viewing Pacioretty as an important part of their team.
He'll start in a familiar position alongside Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta — a trio that was making a big impact prior to Pacioretty's injury. The 23-year-old winger had 19 points (12-7) in 26 games alongside Gomez and Gionta last season, scoring seven of Montreal's 16 power-play goals during that time.
"He means a lot to the line," said coach Jacques Martin. "I think he has the ability to drive wide on defenceman, he has the ability to drive the net without the puck and he's got a good shot. It seems like he's back playing with some assertiveness and playing with some confidence."
In the aftermath of the Chara hit, Pacioretty heard the suggestions from fans and media that he may never return to form. The first round draft pick from 2007 plans to prove those people wrong.
"It's motivation," said Pacioretty. "My goal is to look down the road and say that this incident made me a better hockey player. That's just the way I was raised I guess. That's definitely the right thing to use for motivation — I had a great summer and felt pretty good during the pre-season and I'm ready to step it up a notch here in the regular season."
Pacioretty skated in four pre-season games and scored twice.
He's come a long way in a year after failing to crack the Canadiens roster out of training camp last October. This will be his first full NHL campaign and he plans to eclipse the 14 goals and 24 points he amassed in 37 games a year ago.
"Performance-wise, I just want to pitch in as much as possible," said Pacioretty. "I don't know really numbers to be expected from my year. I want to help this team win hockey games and I know to do that I've got to put the puck in the net.
"Hopefully, I can get a lot of goals this year."