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Posted On Monday, 11.14.2011 / 2:06 PM

By Richard Milo -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Markov practices with Habs in step toward return

BROSSARD, Que. -- Montreal Canadiens defenseman Andrei Markov took another step toward an eventual return from knee surgery when he practiced with his teammates for the first time Monday morning.

Markov did not speak to reporters afterwards, but his presence at the morning skate was a big lift for his Canadiens teammates.

"It was nice to see him on the ice," defenseman P.K. Subban said. "He's a big part of our team."

Markov spent 60 minutes on the ice with his teammates skating in a non-contact jersey. He spent another 20 minutes skating on his own with the Canadiens' assistant coaches.

"We haven't established a timeline for his return but it's encouraging to see him skating with the team," coach Jacques Martin said. "We'll see if he skates tomorrow."

However, as far as the Canadiens' game tonight against the Buffalo Sabres is concerned, an important member of the Montreal defense will be absent as Hal Gill was ruled out with an illness.

Rookie Alexei Emelin will take Gill's spot next to Raphael Diaz on what becomes an extremely young Canadiens defense. After veterans Jaroslav Spacek and Josh Gorges, the combined experience of the other four Canadiens defensemen -- Subban, Emelin, Diaz and Yannick Weber -- is only 184 games.

"We'll need to keep things simple and play well away from the puck," Martin said.

Aside from the loss of Gill, the Canadiens will make no lineup changes from the group that won 2-1 in overtime in Nashville on Saturday night, meaning Scott Gomez will remain on a wing on the fourth line with Petteri Nokelainen.


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Quote of the Day

It was the look in his eyes. Hockey is the most important thing in his life. He wants to be a hockey player, and nothing's going to stop him from being a hockey player.

— Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin on forward Alex Galchenyuk's potential