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Sunday, March 11, 2012

Andrei Markov returns to action, Canadiens beat Canucks 4-1

With only 13 games left to their miserable season, the Montreal Canadiens welcomed back all-star defenseman Andrei Markov to their line-up after a 17-month absence. The result was a convincing 4-1 win over the Vancouver Canucks after a slow start by the Canadiens in the first period during which they were outshot 15-5.

But after Ryan Kesler opened the scoring midway through the second frame, Blake Geoffrion tied the score at 1-1 with a little more than one minute to play in the second period.

Geoffrion scored his first goal with the Habs on the night before a sad anniversary in his family: Sunday marks six years since the death of his paternal grandfather, the great Bernard “Boom-Boom” Geoffrion, and the 75th anniversary of the Forum funeral for his great-grandfather, Hall of Famer Howie Morenz.

Blake Geoffrion is the fourth generation of Geoffrion to play with the Canadiens after his father Danny played 32 games with Montreal in 1979-80, recording only six assists.

But the main event of the night, other than the lacklustre play of the Canucks, mainly the Sedins and Roberto Luongo, was Andrei Markov's return to action after 483 days on the shelf. Montreal head coach Randy Cunneyworth elected to dress seven defensemen as a precautionary measure and to manage Markov's minutes in order to ensure his knee passed his first real test: playing a complete game in the NHL after a 17-month hiatus.

Markov played 17:09, mostly with countryman Alexei Emelin, and recorded a helper on P.K. Subban's 5-on-3 goal five minutes into the third period. Erik Cole also scored twice in the last frame giving the Habs a comfortable 4-1 lead and Max Pacioretty notched two assists in the process.

"It was awesome," said Markov, the 33-year-old Russian who battled back from two right knee surgeries that cost him 133 games over two seasons.

“I felt good,” said Markov, who injured his knee on Nov. 13, 2010. “The first few shifts I had to adjust to the speed, but after that I felt good. My job is just to play the game. I don’t know how many minutes I’m going to play next game. I’m just happy to be there.”

“He’s a first-class player and he moves the puck so well,” added goalie Carey Price. “When we’re breaking the puck out, he just has the confidence with it, and it makes a big difference. He’s a big boost for us and he’s pretty irreplaceable.”

“He did some simple things,” head coach Randy Cunneyworth said, “and on special teams it’s obvious the way he’s able to move the puck. It was a good night to get his feet wet again. “His workload was right where we wanted it to be in terms of ice time and responsibility. You could see some nerves early on, but after that he got right into the game.”

Despite being out of position on Kesler's goal, Markov played a solid game by keeping things simple and making good short passes to his defensive partner and the forwards. Markov's presence also meant the team didn't have to play rearguards Chris Campoli, Yannick Weber and Tomas Kaberle as much, especially at even strength where they can be quite unpredictable and dangerous around Carey Price's net.

The Russian defenseman, who is also a Canadian citizen, finished his night of work with one assist, two shots on goal and a 0 +/- rating, playing 23 shifts on defense and manning the power play unit alongside P.K. Subban.

The Habs played a very good road game despite missing key forwards David Desharnais, Travis Moen, Brian Gionta and Mathieu Darche to injuries. Petteri Nokelainen was a healthy scratch. The team is now 2-1 in this four game road trip, having scored 13 goals in three games despite lacking offensive depth with all these injuries.

The Canadiens are 1-0 with Markov in the line-up and will now face the Sabres in Buffalo Monday night. They will then host the red-hot Ottawa Senators at the Bell Centre on Wednesday night. The Habs now stand 28th in the league with 64 points and are only four points back of the struggling Toronto Maple Leafs!

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5 comments:

As a Canadiens fan living on the West Coast, it meant a lot to me that the team played such a hard game last night (lets take a look at the performance of both teams this year, and put the first period into context)..

Although I was wary about Markov taking to the ice, the combination of his return alongside a roster peppered with players trying to secure spots in the big club equated into a great outing for the Habs.

Slowly, but surely, the club is making progress.. in the same vein, how do Habs fans feel about Saubitz's presence on the ice? I'm not a big fan of fighting, but having someone on the team who is able to inspire some caution in the other roster is definitely a nice change.

Staubitz is a welcome addition. I think the team is actually playing with a bit more confidence now that he's there. At least he can skate and doesn't hurt us too much defensively. If we can manage to keep him, White and Moen and then add a defenceman or 2 that can instill some fear in front of the net. I think we have enough skill with one top 9 addition to be very competitive with the elite teams again.
When skill players know that someone has their back they will be that much more effective.

@JohnnyFivestar: Too true. It was a good performance by the Habs and, as you pointed out, with Markov's return to the lineup you knew they would be pumped.

Or at least SHOULD be pumped.

As for Staubitz, I'm with Hockeyhype...he is a welcome addition to this team. It's just too bad Montreal doesn't play Boston again this year because he'd really have a chance to earn his stripes.

I'm also not a fan of having a goon for the sake of it, but having a guy who can drop 'em with the best, but still be able to play a little hockey, is a must have, imo.

Here's hoping Staubitz sticks around next year or, at the very least, the Habs pick up another player like him for their fourth line.

@Johnny

I agree with Kamal. Staubitz is a welcome addition.

As much as fighting may disappear someday - and I think it should - until it does, a player like Staubitz can serve a purpose. Mind you, if someone with a slightly higher skill set were acquired, that would be most welcome.

I guess I am of the minority again. I am firm believer that we need toughness and a fighter on this team but not Staubitz.

His skating is not up to par for the NHL and he cannot do much else for the club.

We need a guy who can play a regular shift like a Rupp or a prust or Boll or someone along those lines.

With that said I much prefer a guy like Staubitz then say Weber or Nokelainen on the 4th but next season i would replace him with a guy who can actually play.

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