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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