– The past, present and future will all converge in one defense pairing for the Montreal Canadiens
The team with the League's best record will welcome back No. 1 defenseman Andrei Markov
, out since the first game of the second round of last season's playoffs, and he will be paired with rookie sensation P.K. Subban
on the Habs' blue line when they face the Florida Panthers
"He's a great player, he's going to have a great future in this League," Markov said of his new partner. "I think we need to play simple, that will be a benefit to our team."
"We've never played together before, so I hope we don't need time to find the same language on the ice," Markov added. "But I'm looking forward to playing with him."
Canadiens coach Jacques Martin said he didn't want to disturb the chemistry on his other two defense pairings, which are holdovers from last season's run to the Eastern Conference Final, so Josh Gorges
will stay with Hal Gill
and Roman Hamrlik
with Jaroslav Spacek
But Martin also has been saying all season how Subban needs to strike the proper balance between defense and offense. If there is one player who has mastered that art, it would be Markov.
"I'm excited to finally be able to watch him in a game and see his tendencies and learn from him," Subban said. "It will make a huge difference."
Subban and Markov have been in the same lineup only three times: Games 6 and 7 of the first round against Washington and Game 1 of the second round against Pittsburgh before Markov was injured.
Having the two of them together will make for a dream puck-moving pairing, but Markov warned that they can't forget what their primary objective is at all times.
"Our first job is to play defense," Markov said. "Both defensemen have to play solid defense every night. So we have to find the same language, and if one guy goes up (to join the attack), the other has to stay behind."
Martin said there will be few limitations on how Markov is used, except it's likely he will not play on the penalty kill, seeing as Montreal sits sixth in the League in that category without him. But the 29th-ranked power play definitely will see a boost with Markov's return.
"We have to play more simple," Markov said of a power play that has connected only three out of 34 times this season. "Put the puck on net and go from there. Sometimes, when you're struggling, you need to score dirty goals. You need to get some luck."
The Canadiens' opponents Saturday haven't had much luck at all, and the misfortune continued for the Florida Panthers
as top center Stephen Weiss
likely will miss the game after turning an ankle while playing soccer in the hallway at the Bell Centre prior to the morning skate.
"If I had to guess right now, I'd say he's probably out," said Panthers coach Peter DeBoer
When asked if he'll consider banning those soccer warm-ups, De Boer said, "You can't bubble wrap these guys."
The Panthers enter the game with three losses in their last four games, and over those four games Tomas Vokoun
has allowed 12 goals on 84 shots, a save percentage of only .857.
"He was the NHL player of the week the first week of the season and you can't keep that up all year," DeBoer said. "His last couple of starts he hasn't had a lot of support. I'm not worried about his game, he's one of our consistent performers."