WASHINGTON -- Montreal Canadiens defenseman Andrei Markov skated with his teammates this morning for the first time since undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery Dec. 5.
Markov has not played since Nov. 13, 2010, but says he hopes to return to the Canadiens lineup before the end of this season.
"That's my goal," said Markov, who has yet to take part in contact drills. "I can't tell you exactly the time and the date [for a return], but I try to push and feel better every day."
Markov's return to practice is a sliver of good news for a Canadiens team that has lost two straight and four of five overall to drop to last place in the Eastern Conference.
This morning's skate came ahead of Montreal's game tonight against the Washington Capitals.
"It feels great. It was a long time that I didn't play or practice with the team, so I feel good and I'm happy to be back with the team," Markov said.
Markov, who signed a three year contract with the Canadiens last summer, has played just seven games since the start of the 2010-11 season. His absence has been most noticeable on Montreal's power play, which ranks 29th in the NHL at 13.8 percent.
With Markov quarterbacking the Canadiens' power play for parts of five seasons from 2005-2010, Montreal finished among the top five in power play efficiency four times.
"It's not easy," Markov said of watching the Canadiens struggle just to stay in playoff contention. "Especially with our team, with the history and our fans and with [the media] putting pressure on us, it's not easy but we have to find a way to be better as a team, as a group and hopefully we're going to play better tonight and the rest of the games."
Markov underwent knee surgery in Dec. 2010 and was close to returning to the Montreal lineup in late November when he accompanied the team to California. The 33-year-old suffered a setback, though, requiring another operation.
With the Canadiens eight points out of a playoff position, both Markov and the organization are taking every precaution to assure that when he does return to the lineup he'll be there to stay.
"It's a tough recovery for me," he said. "I don't want to play just one game and have another injury or another surgery. I want to continue to play all of next season and feel healthy.
"I think that both sides understand. Nobody is pushing me to be back too early. They're giving me time to recover and to be 100 percent. The hockey rule is that if you step on the ice you have to give 100 percent every night so I don’t want to play at 75-percent, I want to give my best every night."
Markov is expected to remain with the Canadiens as they head south for games Monday and Wednesday against Florida and Tampa Bay.
"I think it's a step in the right direction, it's part of the process," Montreal coach Randy Cunneyworth said. "The next thing we can look forward is a little bit of contact -- we don't have a timetable for it -- so we're just going to proceed forward everyday, and as he feels good we're going to get to that point where he can take a little more on and be more physical."