MONTREAL – We sometimes take certain things for granted. In their absence, we tend to discover just how important they really are. And, we appreciate them even more when they return.
That’s somewhat been the story of rearguard Andrei Markov, a general who has long patrolled the Canadiens blue line.
Having only contested 73 of his team’s 272 games between 2009 and 2012 after undergoing several knee surgeries, the Russian defenseman returned to form when the NHL season began back in January.
After putting his knee to the test in the KHL with a 21-game stint with Vityaz de Chekhov during the lockout, Markov showed that time spent in his native Russia played an important role in his being able to perform consistently during the condensed 2012-13 NHL schedule. His decision to head overseas ahead of the regular season was welcomed by Canadiens brass.
“The fact that Andrei played in the KHL helped him,” indicated Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin. “He hadn’t played for such a long period of time. We obviously had no control over whether or not he would play in the KHL, but internally we were pleased. We knew that he had to find his rhythm again. The best way to do that was to play hockey, and that’s what he did. He had a great start.”
If the Canadiens started the season off at a torrid pace and began heading down a path that would see them jump from finishing 15th in the Eastern Conference in 2011-12 to second in 2012-13, partial credit goes to number 79 who registered four goals, including three game-winning markers in three consecutive games – a first for a defenseman in team history – and four assists during the first six games of the season in January. All doubt had been set aside. The Markov of old was back.
At his post for each of the 48 regular season tilts and five playoff games, Markov was a veritable workhorse for head coach Michel Therrien’s defense corps, logging at least 20 minutes of ice time in all but two games over the course of the year. It was a tall order for a 34-year-old defenseman who hadn’t laced up his skates in practically two years. Markov, however, met the challenge in front of him head on. He finished the season with 30 points, 23 of which came on the power play, finishing second only to teammate P.K. Subban who led all NHL defensemen in that category.
"Not playing over the course of two years and then playing two games in two nights, four in six. I was tired just traveling with the guys," explained Bergevin with a grin. "In general, we’re happy with the way he performed."
Having coached Markov during his early days in the NHL, Therrien was happy to be able to count on his general game in and game out. Markov’s triumphant return did not go unnoticed when it was announced that he was the Canadiens’ candidate for the Bill Masterton Trophy.
"It’s a great demonstration of perseverance. He went practically two years without being able to play," said the Canadiens bench boss. "He’s a player that we used a lot, who’s important at the heart of our team and who played in all of our games. When we talk about perseverance, Andrei is an excellent example of that."
The Voskresensk, Russia native took full advantage of the season to cement his place among the best defensemen in team history, moving up to fifth on the all-time points list with 399 points. Legends Serge Savard and Doug Harvey are in sight for Markov in 2013-14.
While the campaign may have ended earlier than expected after a successful regular season, the veteran rearguard is optimistic about what the future has in store.
“We expected more. Regardless of where you finish in the standings, you want to get past the opening round. Everyone was disappointed,” confessed Markov. “We’ve got a good group of young players who will get even better next season. We’ve got a bright future ahead of us.”
Alexandre Harvey is a writer for canadiens.com. Translated by Matt Cudzinowski.
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