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Andrei Markov returns to Canadiens lineup

by Kevin Woodley
VANCOUVER -- Montreal Canadiens' top defenseman Andrei Markov made his season debut Saturday night in Vancouver, almost 16 months after his last game.

Markov, who has played in only seven games in the last two seasons as he tries to come back from two major knee surgeries and another arthroscopic procedure, was activated from injured reserve Saturday morning and made his return alongside fellow Russian Alexei Emelin, a rookie.

Markov averaged 55 points from 2005-09, including a career-high 64 in 2008-09. But the 33-year-old Russian played just 45 games in 2009-10 and only seven last season before tearing his ACL in a Nov. 13, 2010, game against Carolina. A year later, he practiced in November but was quickly shut down after the knee swelled up, and wasn’t cleared again for contact until Monday.

"I believe his condition is to a point where he can help out the team and do the work he feels will help our team be successful," said coach Randy Cunneyworth, who has indicated he will monitor Markov's minutes closely. "We’ll figure out best way to manage his ice based on how the game is going and how he is feeling. It's another step in the right direction for a guy we know is a very good player, but we don’t want to throw too much on his plate."

It’s been a long road back for the puck-moving, power-play specialist, one fellow Montreal defenseman Josh Gorges knows better than most. Georges had season-ending knee surgery in January 2011 and had to wait until the start of this season to make his return.

That was an eight-month wait. Markov hadn't played a game in almost 16 months.

"I don’t expect him to be at his 100 percent best first game back after this long a break," Gorges said Saturday morning. "The timing of things has to come back, but mentally he just has to get out there, get a couple shifts early, keep them short, keep them quick, get the feel for the puck, for the timing. Probably the best thing to do would be take a hit, take a big hit, and to know that he can keep going, his knee will be fine and mentally he can overcome that obstacle and he’ll be fine."

That said, Gorges believes it will be good for the morale of a Canadiens team that is last in the Eastern Conference to see Markov finally return.

"It will be a great boost to everyone just to see him playing," Gorges said.
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