VANCOUVER – Andrei Markov didn’t collect any rust during his year-and-a-half on the shelf.
Even 4,554 km away from home at Rogers Arena, fans in attendance in Vancouver were audibly excited ahead of Markov’s long-awaited return to action against the Canucks. But no one in the building was anticipating the moment like the 33-year-old himself.
“I’m always nervous [before games],” admitted Markov with a laugh, who suited up for the first time in 140 games since undergoing his second ACL reconstruction surgery. “The first few shifts were a little bit tough; I had to adjust to the speed and all that stuff but after that I felt good. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy so I just tried to concentrate on doing the little things and keeping it simple.”
Of course, when you’re a two-time All-Star, “simple” becomes a relative term.
“When he comes back it’s a boost of confidence for our team,” confirmed P.K. Subban, who one-timed a perfect Markov feed past Roberto Luongo to put the Habs up 3-1 in the third period. “Even today, I’m not too sure what his stats were, but it looked like he’s been playing for a while. It’s pretty amazing to see a guy like that and it’s great to be able to learn from him and watch him play and be out there on the power play with him.”
Subban has only had the opportunity to play alongside the Russian superstar for 11 games in his career so far, but that’s been plenty to convert the 22-year-old into a card-carrying member of the Markov Fan Club.
“When he’s healthy he’s in the top three best defensemen in the league,” praised Subban. “He’s an unbelievable passer. All the passes from him today were just...you just know where it’s going to be and you just get ready to shoot it. His timing was perfect. I don’t know how he does it, but he does it.”
Finishing with an assist in his 2011-12 debut was the icing on the cake for Markov, but sparking his team to a win over the league’s second-best team was the most important thing for the shifty blue-liner.
“It was awesome,” shared Markov, whose 17:08 of ice time was the third-highest among Habs defensemen in the outing. “Everybody knew this was a big game for us and a big challenge and it’s nice to see the team play this way. We’re happy we got the two points. We just beat one of the strongest teams in the league.”
After watching Markov step seamlessly back into the lineup after a 483-day absence, the only question left was how his knee was holding up after the game.
“It’s still there,” he joked. “Definitely it’s going to take some time but I feel pretty good out there. I just need a little bit more time to [adapt to] the speed of the game and to read the game. I felt good tonight and hopefully we’re going to continue this way.
“I didn’t play for almost two years. I missed the game and I just wanted to play and feel my conditioning and how my knee would react,” he added. “I’m just happy to be here right now and I’m going to take it one game at a time.”
Shauna Denis is a writer for canadiens.com.
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