ANAHEIM, Calif. -- The Montreal Canadiens begin a three-game West Coast trip as a team in transition.
The three-game suspension to Max Pacioretty, announced Monday, and the uncertainty surrounding defenseman Andrei Markov, who is extremely close to returning from a year-long injury, have left the club searching for answers as it prepares for Wednesday's game against a struggling Anaheim team.
With Pacioretty out for the entire road trip due to his hit to the head of Pittsburgh defenseman Kris Letang in Saturday's game, the Canadiens called up top prospect Louis Leblanc to play forward.
Leblanc, a center, is expected to make his NHL debut Wednesday against Anaheim. The No. 18 pick in the 2009 NHL Draft, Leblanc is ranked as the club's top prospect by The Hockey News. He has four goals and 10 points with a minus-7 rating in 14 games with Hamilton of the American Hockey League.
"He's a player that has good vision, is good without the puck," Montreal coach Jacques Martin said after Tuesday's practice. "Unfortunately he missed training camp this year, but he's a young player that we feel has a good upside and good potential."
However, Leblanc will not slide right into Pacioretty's spot. There will have to be some line juggling against the Ducks.
"If you look at the situation, me and Letang made eye contact. I think that's what gave me the green light to try and hit him. I felt he put himself in a vulnerable position." -- Max Pacioretty
"We got to try and find some solution to get (offense)," Martin said. "We probably need more from our top guys."
Pacioretty spoke with reporters for the first time since the suspension was handed down.
The forward admitted it was "tough to agree" with the decision by NHL Senior Vice President Brendan Shanahan.
Pacioretty delivered an open-ice hit to Letang after the Pittsburgh defender put a shot on goal in Montreal's zone in the third period Saturday. No penalty was called. Letang suffered a broken nose but returned to the game and scored the winning goal in overtime.
"If you look at the situation, me and Letang made eye contact," Pacioretty said. "I think that's what gave me the green light to try and hit him. I felt he put himself in a vulnerable position."
Asked if the incident will alter his style, Pacioretty said, "I'm going to be completely honest: I've been scared to hit people out there. A lot of times you're going in on the forecheck and the defenseman turns his back to you. Things of that nature happen. It's a fast game and injuries are going to happen. That's why it's tough out there, especially for someone who's expected to finish their hits.
"The blame's still on me. I made a bad decision. Down the road, I'm definitely not going to make that decision when someone comes through the middle. But I don't see why I should give him a free pass to come through our zone like that and get a free shot on net."
Martin reiterated Tuesday that "I'm disappointed with the decision, but I accept it and move forward. We have three games on this trip and they're important."
Markov update: The Canadiens will also soon face decisions on defense as Markov nears readiness to play again. Martin said Tuesday that he didn't know if Markov would play during Montreal's three-game trip through California.
"I don't know if there will be a possibility or not," Martin said. "It's something that's going to be left up to him, but I think that it's good that he's practicing."
Markov has not played in more than a year. He re-injured his surgically repaired right knee in a collision with Eric Staal on Nov. 13, 2010, and had a second reconstructive surgery the following month. In Tuesday's practice, Markov again played the point with P.K. Subban during power-play drills.
"He's getting closer, but I don't know when he'll be back," Martin said. "I think it's good for him to be involved in intense practice this week."