It’s common for teams to use their enforcers for fleeting moments in a game, if at all.
Usually, enforcers get several shifts in the first period to set the tone, maybe a couple more in the second and it’s all bench in the third.
And playoffs? Forget it.
But there are exceptions.
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguin tough guy Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond has played a regular shift in all 62 games he has played in entering this weekend. He’s been used early, late, with the game on the line and even on the penalty kill.
When it comes to ice time, Leblond doesn’t get the enforcer treatment.
“I’ve never been that guy,” he said. “I’ve always had a regular shift everywhere I’ve been.”
And for good reason. Sure, Leblond may have carved out a career with his fists, but he has refined it by showing he can play all aspects of the game. He forechecks relentlessly, is responsible in the defensive zone, has played the Penguins’ system flawlessly and his physical play often generates momentum that carries over to the other lines.
And then there is Leblond’s reputation as one of the toughest customers in the AHL, evident by his 250 penalty minutes and 20 fighting majors.
But don’t peg Leblond as one dimensional.
“I know I can do more than fighting,” he said. “Skate hard on the forecheck, be reliable on defense and just play hard every night.”
That doesn’t mean Leblond thinks he’s above dropping the gloves, however.
“If you want to come into our building and try to intimidate, I’ll be right there,” he said.
That’s why Leblond has defied the odds a bit, for an enforcer, and has an ample amount of playoff experience throughout his nine-year career. Not only does Leblond have playoff experience in the AHL and ECHL, he also appeared in five postseason games with the New Jersey Devils in 2010.
When Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s playoff run begins later this month, expect Leblond to remain a familiar face in the lineup.
“It will be no different,” said head coach John Hynes. “He’s a real important part of our team and really has an impact on the game. We can count on him at any point in a game and he can play a regular shift all game long.”
But what exactly is it that keeps Leblond playing in the postseason when most enforcers are shut down?
Hynes said it’s his ability to be involved every shift, play physical and execute the system.
Leblond added that the intensity of the playoffs is tailor-made to his style of play, and that’s what makes him a key postseason performer.
“The playoffs are actually easier for me because it’s tougher and harder out there, and that’s my game,” Leblond said. “In the regular season, sometimes you go to hit a guy and they move out of the way. In the playoffs, guys will take that hit to make a play. That’s when I’m at my best and that’s why it’s easier to do my job in the playoffs because it is more physical.”
While Leblond’s two goals and six points are short of his career high of eight goals and 13 points in the AHL, he is on pace to pass his career high in games played - 64. He could do it by playing all three games this weekend.
Still, this isn’t the first time that Leblond has been used regularly during a season. He has surpassed the 60-game mark three times in the AHL and in 2008-09 appeared in 68 games between Lowell and New Jersey in the NHL.
The few seasons when he did miss extended time it was due to injury and not as a healthy scratch.
While Leblond’s play is the main reason why he remains a regular in the lineup, with the Penguins there’s another factor at play.
“It’s earning the coach’s trust,” Leblond said. “Build that trust and let coach know I want more and I can do more than maybe they were expecting when they signed me. Since I got here I’ve been happy with my ice time and where they use me.”
Leblond cautioned that his success is only the direct result of his linemates - Mike Carman and Bobby Farnham, who have combined to give the Penguins a high-energy, physical fourth line. While the momentum generated by the fourth line usually results in a scoring chance by the next line out, Leblond said they still feel they are rewarded for their hard work.
“With Bobby and Mike, we produce a lot of good momentum shifts and the coaches let us know they appreciate that, even though the scoring chance resulting from it comes on the next shift,” Leblond said. “We know our role.”
Leblond came to the Penguins in the summer on an AHL deal and early in the season earned a two-year NHL contract that ensures he will be back next season.
He he will bring more of the same next season when it comes to physical play and intensity.
But that’s next season. Right now Leblond is focused on playing quite a bit of playoff hockey.
“I feel like I can help this team win in the playoffs, and that’s why I’m not even thinking about next season,” he said. “I’m not saving anything for tomorrow when I go on the ice. It’s about showing up every night and going all out.”