MONTREAL - It seems Andrei Markov's English may be a little better than most people give him credit for, as he responded to his new coach's pre-game challenge by having his first-career four-point night in a 6-2 victory over the San Jose Sharks Saturday at the Bell Centre.
In Bob Gainey's Montreal coaching debut, the Canadiens (20-16-6) picked up their second straight win on home-ice, while the Sharks (20-17-5) saw their five-game winning streak come to an abrupt end.
After being singled out during an afternoon press conference where Gainey announced he would be taking over for Claude Julien behind the bench for the remainder of the season, Markov exploded for two goals and two assists.
"I'm still getting to know him for myself, but I believe that Andrei has a lot to offer," said Gainey, who earlier in the day acknowledged Markov's strong play this season while adding that the Russian blueliner is capable of even bigger things. "He has great vision and is great with the puck. We certainly saw that tonight and hopefully it's only the beginning."
The soft-spoken Markov was quick to deflect attention from his own performance, despite becoming the first Canadiens defenseman to register four points in a period in over 40 years dating back to the night J.C. Tremblay picked up four assists in the second period of a 5-1 win over the Red Wings at the Forum on Dec. 29, 1962.
"It's not about the points, it's about finding our game," said Markov, who now leads the Canadiens blueline with 29 points in 39 games this season. "Getting four points is great, but the team got a big win and we now have to build on that."
Seeing the Canadiens follow up a quiet opening frame that had the Sharks take a 1-0 with a six-goal second period outburst begged the question: what exactly did Gainey say to his troops during his first-ever post-period pep talk as the Canadiens' head coach?
"He was really positive and just reminded us to use our speed, make good decisions and win the battles along the boards," said Craig Rivet, just before describing what it was like to have his GM mere inches behind him all night long for the first time. "I definitely felt a little more heat than usual on the back of my neck."
The goal bonanza was started by Markov, who scored Montreal's first two goals on the night, including one on the power-play and another short-handed to give the Russian rearguard seven goals on the season.
Chris Higgins added a shorthanded marker of his own on a brilliant solo effort that saw the rookie outrace Marcel Goc and cash in on a partial breakaway by beating Nabokov with a nifty backhand.
Rounding out the scoring for the Canadiens were Jan Bulis, who extended his point streak to six games, Mike Ribeiro, who snapped a 16-game goalless drought, and Swiss defenseman Mark Streit, who notched his first NHL goal.
The Canadiens made Bob Gainey's Montreal coaching debut a memorable one by posting a solid 6-2 win over the San Jose Sharks.
Special teams were clicking on all cylinders on Saturday with the Canadiens power-play going 4-for-5, while the Sharks went 1-for-7.
What else would anyone expect with Gainey, Guy Carbonneau and Doug Jarvis - three of the NHL's all-time greatest penalty killers - behind the bench, but the Canadiens scoring two shorthanded goals in a game for the first time since Oleg Petrov and Craig Darby turned the trick in a 6-3 home-ice win over Carolina on March 14, 2001.
In his return to the Canadiens' lineup after seeing back-up Cristobal face the Senators and the Avalanche, Jose Theodore stopped 24-of-26 shots to pick up his 15th win of the season. Nabokov allowed six goals on 20 shots before being replaced by Vesa Toskala to start the third. Grant Stevenson and Jonathan Cheechoo scored goals for San Jose.
While quick to admit to being a little rusty in his return behind the bench, Gainey remained hopeful that his squad's convincing win over the Sharks may be a sign of things to come.
"This hasn't been an easy couple of weeks for our team and this is a big win which should really help their confidence," said Gainey, after winning his first game as a head coach since a 5-4 Stars victory over the Winnipeg Jets back on Jan. 5, 1996. "Our players got the chance to savor victory and hopefully they liked the taste."
The Canadiens will be right back at it on Monday when they welcome the Dallas Stars to the Bell Centre.
NOTES: Tonight marked the first time the Canadiens scored six goals in one period since Montreal scored six in the first period of an 8-3 over the Nordiques at the Colisee on Dec. 17, 1992... Saturday night's showdown with the Sharks drew a capacity crowd of 21,273, marking the Canadiens' 21st consecutive sellout of the season and 44th straight overall packed house dating back to 2003-04... The Canadiens were without C Tomas Plekanec (knee) who missed his 10th straight game, D Sheldon Souray (knee) who sat out after suffering a knee injury on Wednesday in Colorado, while LW Andrei Kostitsyn was the only healthy scratch of the night... D Mike Komisarek made his return to the lineup after being a healthy scratch for two straight games... RW Richard Zednik left the game with a thumb injury after being struck in the left hand by a Rivet shot from the point in the second period...
Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.com