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He has struggled at times this season, but there’s no doubts anywhere that Andrei Markov makes the Montreal Canadiens a much more talented hockey club. It appears, finally, that the talented Russian will be able to showcase that talent Friday night in New Jersey when the defenceman is expected to return to the Habs lineup after a painful 10-game abscence.


After injuring his hip, Markov later was diagnosed with an infected foot, which led to further complications and an almost unbearably long abscence. Despite the team’s success, the swift skating rearguard will be welcomed back so very gladly to the lineup. Andrei battled personal problems too, as he tried to cope with a severe illness to his father.


With the return of Markov, who has three goals for fourteen points in 38 games and carries a respectable +3 rating, so probable there will need to be some space cleared out on the backend. Two months ago, the choice would’ve been easy; just sit Francis Bouillon. Now, however, after Frankie B has been playing some very solid, if not spectacular, hockey, the choice may be a little harder for Coach Claude, assuming that there is one to be made. 


 If I was to make draw some sort of conclusion, I would place my bets on Mike Komisarek being the odd man out, even though he played a very good game in Philly, he is the rookie, and usually will take the majority of the bench-time. If that is the case, Markov should resume his duties as the club’s number two blueliner, and will likely play with Craig Rivet.  


 In other Habs-related injury talk, Andreas Dackell badly tweaked his knee in practice Thursday. The sly Swede, who looked to be in pain as he limped of off the ice at the end of practice, does not appear to me a very likely candidate to play tonight, which should pave the return to the lineup for Chad Kilger, or spell the beginning of Josef Balej’s NHL career. Big Kilger has not dressed since he shared fourth line duties on January 14th against the Thrashers. Balej, meanwhile, was called up yesterday from Hamilton, but do not expect the sniping speedster to play a large portion of the game.


 It will be interesting to see who gets the start in goal tonight. With back-to-back games, tonight in NJ and tomorrow at home in Montreal against the Leafs, Mathieu Garon may find his way into the blue ice come the 7:30 puckdrop this evening. There is, though, possibility that Theo could dress for both games. Fresh off of an All-Star selection, he has not played since Tuesday and will be looking to show every spectator that he can outperform Martin Brodeur. One thing’s for sure, though, we will see Jose in goal tomorrow when the Habs host the Leafs, a game that Les Boys seem destined to win.


 Theodore’s fellow All-Star, Sheldon Souray, will be returning to the team that once gave up on him tonight. Souray was the main piece of the deal that sent Vlad Malakhov to the Devils. Sheldon has not registered a point since his historic 6-point game in Pittsburgh, and also has posted a -2 rating. His play has not been up to its usual standard, but if there’s one man every player in the NHL would like to showup, it’s probably the general manager that decided to cast them away, Lou Lamoriello in this case.


 The same could be said for Pierre Dagenais, who is also enjoying a career year alongside Mike Ribeiro. Dagenais was cut by the Devils, citing his lack of defensive play, poor skating, and often lack of overall interest. ‘Dags’ seems to be quite interested playing with Ribeiro, who’s crafty passing and exceptional offensive instincts have his 6’5 buddy from Blainville scoring goals at will. While he looked a little off during Tuesday’s contest, all it takes is one flick of the wrists for a bad game, to turn into a great one for Dagenais. Watch your collarbone, Brodeur.


 In the case of Mike Ribeiro, with 40 points in 47 games, he could have very easily been on the Eastern Conference All-Star team, too. Unfortunately for Ribs, all 15 points of Keith Primeau will be heading to the game, instead. While Habs fans should be very happy with a pair of such excellent representitives, Ribeiro’s linemate and the Habs’ leading goalscorer, Richard Zednik, could have presented a legitimate case to be in Minnesota, too. Gary Roberts, who has the same amount of goals (17) as Zed, will be heading to the game.


 Both players, though, will definitely not be hanging their heads in shame. Ribeiro’s 11 points in his past five games have been instrumental in the Habs’ recent success, which has them unbeaten in five games, and with one defeat in their past ten contests. Zednik, meanwhile, has three points in his past two games, which includes a pair of goals, including his fifth game-winner in Philly. Fellow right-winger Michael Ryder is showing no signs of slowing down either. With four points in his past two matches, Ryder has a stranglehold on the NHL’s rookie scoring race with a 7-point lead on Islanders rookie Trent Hunter.


 Things may be a little easier than usual for the Habs offfence tonight, though. Martin Brodeur has stuggled in his past three outings, posting a save percentage of .886, a 2.94 goals against average, and zero victories. As well, without Scott Stevens’ shoulders roaming the Devils blueline, players such as Ribeiro and Captain Koivu should be able to roam a little bit more freely.


Also read: Lineup Notes by Brian La Rose (01-23) 
Also read: A Look at the Devil(s), by Colin Prichett (01-22)