MONTREAL – Marc-Andre Bergeron spent the summer waiting for a call at home in Trois-Rivieres, Que., but the phone didn’t ring until nearly a week into the NHL regular season.
When it did, the 29-year-old defenceman was delighted.
Not only was he headed back to the NHL, but he would be playing for the Montreal Canadiens, only a little more than an hour’s drive away.
The five-foot-10 rearguard with the big shot from the point went from being crushed that no NHL team had offered a contract to signing a US$750,0000 one-year contract with the storied Canadiens on Oct. 6.
“It was disappointing, but at the same time, everything turned out perfect,” Bergeron said Monday after his first skate with his new team at the Bell Centre. “I was waiting for the right team with the right needs, and it’s perfect it turned out to be Montreal, near where I grew up. It’s very exciting.”
Bergeron will be in the lineup when the Canadiens try to snap a five-game losing streak against the visiting Atlanta Thrashers on Tuesday night.
He is expected to play on the third defence pair with Paul Mara and play the point on the first power play unit, although coach Jacques Martin would not say whether he would replace Jaroslav Spacek or Roman Hamrlik.
The Canadiens reached for Bergeron when they lost two top-six defencemen in their first two regular-season games.
Andrei Markov, arguably their best player, was lost for up to four months with severed tendons in a foot in the season opener against Toronto on Oct. 1 and Ryan O’Byrne went down with a lower body injury the next game in Buffalo.
The Canadiens sent Bergeron for a conditioning stint with AHL Hamilton, where he had six assists and was plus-6 in three games.
“It’s hard to go from playing for fun (in the summer) to the AHL level, which was very good – I was surprised,” he said. “It’s a high-tempo, skating game.
“There’s a lot of good players. I had to be serious because mistakes happen quickly. After the first game I said ‘Wow, that as a tough one.’ I’m glad I had two more games after that.”
While waiting for Bergeron, young prospects Yannick Weber and Shawn Belle filled in on defence, but together they did not get a point and were minus-6 and both were returned to Hamilton.
Defenceman Hal Gill was glad to see Bergeron on the ice.
“We know what he brings to the table and we need that now,” said Gill. “He’s a welcome addition and hopefully he’ll fit right in.”
Martin said Bergeron has generally played 16 or 17 minutes per game with his previous teams and estimated he would play somewhere between 14 and 18 minutes with Montreal, depending on how many power plays the team gets.
“We acquired him because we felt he’ll be a big help on the power play and his shot is an asset we need,” said Martin. “He scored 14 goals last year, so hopefully we’ll get some of that production.”
Bergeron had 32 points overall in 72 games for the Minnesota Wild in 2008-09. His best year was 2005-06 with the Edmonton Oilers, when he had 15 goals and 20 assists in 75 games. He broke into the league with the Oilers in 2002, moved to the New York Islanders in 2006 for two seasons, then played for Anaheim and the Wild.
The knocks on Bergeron are that he is not big and is not a strong defensive player, although he is plus-3 for his career.
“You don’t like it when anyone says anything bad about you, but this is a chance and I’ll just have to prove it once again,” he said. “Nothing’s perfect, but you try to make it right every day.”
He said playing in the NHL was tougher for him before the league’s crackdown on obstruction fouls following the 2004-05 lockout season, but now “nobody can touch anybody in the offensive zone, pretty much.
“You need to be quick and have a good stick and I’m a quick player with a good stick. I’m not an all-star defensive defencemen, but I’m good enough to play.”
The Canadiens hope he helps them out of a deepening rut.
Without Markov, they have yet to win a game in regulation time. Their wins in Toronto and Buffalo were both in overtime. And they have scored only 15 goals in seven games.
The Thrashers are off to a 4-1-0 record on seven goals from star winger Ilya Kovalchuk and strong goaltending from Ondrej Pavalec.
“We’re not going to panic – that’s not the way to win games – but a sense of urgency will be coming up soon,” said winger Mike Cammalleri. “A sense of urgency and desperation is necessary.”
Cammalleri, one of eight new players acquired since last season, said one problem with trying to get out of their losing streak is that the players don’t all know each other very well yet, so they don’t know which buttons to push – a pat on the back or a well-placed kick – to help get a teammate going.
Checking centre Glen Metropolit, who has missed five games with a tear in his ribs, was back skating with the team but won’t play Tuesday night and isn’t sure when he’ll be ready.
“I can skate and shoot, and now it’s a matter of getting into condition,” said Metropolit, who had a goal and an assist in the two games he played. His replacement Kyle Chipchura, is without a point and is minus-6 in five games.