When the 28th place Montreal Canadiens met the 2nd place Vancouver Canucks late Saturday night it seemed like just another game in a season of horrible disappointment. However, this game turned out to be something special. Carey Price was unbelievable, stopping 32 of 33 shots in front of friends and family in Vancouver. PK Subban scored yet another goal and is starting to play his best hockey once again. Erik Cole scored 2 goals and created problems for the Vancouver Canucks all night. On top of all that Blake Geoffrion got his first goal as a Montreal Canadien and also became the first 4th generation player to score in the NHL.
However, on top of all this there was something even more special than this that went on Saturday night. All season a lot of coverage was dedicated to this player but for all the wrong reasons. Many believed that Andrei Markov’s NHL career was over after he spent the entire season trying and failing to comeback and rejoin the Canadiens. A Canadiens team who he suffered to watch lose game after game and lose their shot at a place in the playoffs. This turned into a prolonged saga which was just another negative contribution to a negative season.
Many times this season, including during training camp, it seemed that Markov was only one step away from coming back. However, those steps would always be mistaken and Markov would return to the long-term injury reserve. But Saturday night proved that Markov’s career is not yet over and that he still has plenty to offer to both the organization and the team.
Simply seeing Andrei Markov playing in a Canadiens jersey was a very odd sight, almost as odd as it was to see Tomas Kaberle earlier this season. The whole game kind of felt like at any moment some hit to the knee would end his short return to the Canadiens. However, despite the fact that Markov’s knee took some contact it held up for the entire game. A game in which he played just of 17 minutes, not a bad length for a player just returning from what could have been a career ending knee injury. But Markov wasn’t here just to impress the fans, he was here to do business.
From his very first shift it was shocking how well a player who hadn’t played in two years fit in with the team. Markov didn’t exactly fit in like Crosby did in his triumphant return to the fold, but then again he was playing the Canucks and not the Islanders. No offense to Islanders fans but it is true. The Canucks are a dominant team in the NHL at the moment and this was a physical battle from the start. This meant it was a very good test for a player who Andrei Markov who probably isn’t going to endure this much talent from any other team in the league.
Early on in the game Markov looked rusty, as would make sense considering he hasn’t played a professional hockey game in over two years. In fact Markov was a major contributor to the 1-0 deficit the Canadiens found themselves in during the 2nd period. But Markov quickly proved that even though he wasn’t as fast as he once was he still has an incredible hockey mind. That was always the case, it didn’t really matter how fast Markov was when he returned because his game has always been about smart play and incredible vision. We got a chance to see that vision once again Saturday as Markov looked every bit the passer that he once was in this league.
On several occasions Markov played passes that we really haven’t seen from most of the Canadiens defenceman this season. He certainly showed no lack of confidence and the only fragility that he showed would be in the fans heads. Futhermore, Markov’s defensive game, which had a few problems early on, picked up as the game went on. After letting Kesler walk in and fire a shot past his goalie, which was of course not all his fault, he tightened it up. After that the Canucks had huge problems scoring and Markov was certainly a part of that, in no small way helped by Carey Price’s goaltending.
But the defining moment for Markov in this game came in the thirs period. Not surprisingly it was on a powerplay, like the many Canadiens’ powerplays he has quarterbacked to success in the last decade. Beside PK Subban, a player who has enjoyed plenty of chemistry with Markov in the past, Markov looked as confident as ever. The powerplay turned out to be one of the best the Canadiens have had all season. Subban, who must of gained confidence from the return of Markov as well as his recent solid form put many dangerous shots on goal. Finally, a quick setup from Markov would find Subban who would fire a slapshot past a surprised Roberto Luongo.
It wasn’t necessarily the goal that was the most exciting part of the play. Nor that Markov had a point in his first game as a member of the Canadiens. It was the embrace in between him and PK after the goal. The pure excitement of the moment, plus the fact that someone’s enthusiasm actually matched Subban after he scored a goal was refreshing. It was that moment when Markov’s return really set in. He was back and this team was benefiting already from his return. As sad as it is I found myself thinking something last night watching that game. If Markov could have been healthy with this team for the entire season there is no doubt that this team would be in the playoff hunt right now. An elite NHL powerplay, with all the close games the Canadiens have played this season, would have changed everything.