ANAHEIM, Calif. - Louis Leblanc was on his way to a Guns N’ Roses concert Monday night when he received a phone call that forced him to change his plans.
Instead of listening to Axl Rose and the band sing Welcome to the Jungle, Hamilton Bulldogs head coach Clément Jodoin told him to go home and wait for a phone call,
The call from Montreal general manager Pierre Gauthier informed Leblanc that he was being called up by the Canadiens.
“I got the word late, 10:30 or 11 o’clock,” said the Canadiens’ first-round draft choice from 2009. “I was excited. It’s an honour. I still don’t believe it. Time is flying.”
The plan was for Leblanc to spend the entire season in Hamilton, but a three-game suspension for Max Pacioretty has left the Canadiens shorthanded as they open a three-game road trip Wednesday night against the Anaheim Ducks (10 p.m., RDS, TSN Radio-990).
Head coach Jacques Martin said he wasn’t sure whether Leblanc would make his NHL debut against the Ducks. He didn’t arrive in time Tuesday to join the team for practice, where the big news centred on Andrei Markov. The defenceman, who hasn’t played in more than a year, was paired with fellow Russian Alexei Emelin, while defenceman Yannick Weber was back on the fourth line.
That led to speculation that Markov would play on this trip, but Martin didn’t sound optimistic when asked whether Markov would face the Ducks.
“I think with Andrei, I don’t know when he’ll be back,” Martin said. “If you look at (Sidney) Crosby, he practiced for a long time before coming back. I think it’s good for (Markov) to be involved in intense practices. We haven’t had a lot of intense practices because of the number of games we’ve had. Yesterday and today, it was good to be involved in more hitting and more game-situation type practices.”
Markov has been cleared for contact for nearly two weeks and Martin said the decision on a comeback would be up to the player.
Pacioretty’s absence left a hole on what has been the team’s top line and a struggling Michael Cammalleri will attempt to regain his scoring touch with David Desharnais and Erik Cole. Andrei Kostitsyn will take Cammalleri’s spot on a line Tomas Plekanec and Brian Gionta.
“We have to juggle because we’ve lost Pacioretty,” Martin said. “That line was going well, giving us some good minutes so we have to try to find a solution. We need more from our top guys, no matter what line they’re on. We have to elevate our play on this trip.”
The Canadiens are hoping the change in scenery helps lift Cammalleri out of a funk.
“He didn’t have a good weekend,” Martin said. “We want to get him back to his standard.”
Martin said he would wait until Wednesday to announce his starting goaltender. With back-to-back games on tap, it is likely Peter Budaj faces Anaheim with Carey Price playing Thursday in San Jose. The trip concludes with a Saturday afternoon game in Los Angeles.
And Martin said he wasn’t sure where Leblanc fits, but right wing on the fourth line looks like a good fit if Weber is needed on defence.
“He’s having a good season in Hamilton.” Martin said of the newcomer. “He’s a player who has good vision, is good without the puck. Last year at the world juniors, he played right wing. Unfortunately, he missed training camp this year because of (a shoulder) injury, but we feel he has a good upside.”
“I think it’s going well,” said Leblanc, who has four goals and six assists in 14 games with the Bulldogs. “The team is kind of struggling with six losses in the last six games. It’s not great, but it’s a young team with a lot on injuries. I think I’ve improved every game and have been able to stand out in some games. So far so good.”
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