Greetings Habs Addicts!
The Habs swept the season series against the Boston Bruins the other day for the first time since the 2007-08 season with a 3-1 win in Boston on Sunday night. The Habs are 10-1 in their past 11 games against Boston, including six straight wins in Boston. Impressive!
Andrei Markov had an empty-net goal to ice the victory, his seventh goal of the season. Last night he set up David Desharnais‘ overtime winner against the Philadelphia Flyers in the Habs 2-1 victory. He now has 31 points in 53 games played this season. The General is continuing to defy the aging process that inevitably hits all players and is averaging 24:48 of ice time per game this season at age 36. He may have lost a step in terms of speed, but in terms of skills and stats, he is hardly slowing down.
Andrei Markov has been a rock for the Canadiens since he broke into the NHL back in 2000-01. He suffered a series of knee injuries that required reconstruction and limited him to only seven games played in 2010-11 and 13 games the following year, but Markov has returned strong and appeared in all 48 games during the strike shortened season, missed only one game last year and thus far has appeared in all 53 games thus far this season. Media and fans were concerned about re-signing Markov after the knee injury and management faced a lot of criticism when they did re-sign him to a contract with such a high average-annual salary cap value; however, he has rewarded management’s faith in him by returning to his high level of play. Calm and cool with the puck, you never see Markov panicking on the ice. The quarterback of the power play for years, he has proven to be a lethal combination with P.K. Subban on the back end. What more can you ask of a player who was only drafted in the 6th round, 162 overall in 1998?
Habs fans cringed last summer when Markov was approaching free-agency for the first time in his career. Coming into last season with a salary cap hit of $5.75 million, fans and media alike were concerned about Marc Bergevin extending the soon-to-be 36 year old at that current cap hit. Well, Bergevin rewarded his veteran leader with a three-year extension at the same salary cap hit and Markov has responded in year one thus far, on pace for 11 goals and 49 points.
Markov has started to show signs of age creeping up to him. As stated earlier, he has lost a step in the speed department after the knee injury, but he has not let that affect his play as he better positions himself and takes advantage of the vast hockey smarts he developed over his 13-year career. Last season, it was evident that fatigue was catching up to him as he entered the playoffs as he had only one goal and four assists in his final 13 regular season games and then was kept off the score sheet entirely during the four-game sweep of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Markov was beginning to feel the effects of his first full regular season in four years. Critics were calling for Michel Therrien to rest the veteran, and limit his minutes to keep him fresh, but Markov played over 25 minutes per game last year and is very close to that same amount of ice time this year. Will he fade a bit down the stretch? Even with his fade, Markov finished last years playoff run with 10 points in 17 playoff games. Solid production from a solid producer.
The trade deadline is approaching. Bergevin will address some needs and another puck-mover on the back end would surely help. Names like Cody Franson and Mike Green have been bandied about. Edmonton is trying to move Jeff Petry and he could be an option, as well. Bergevin has already acquired fellow Russian veteran Sergei Gonchar earlier this year and he has paired up tremendously well with young Nathan Beaulieu. On the flip side, Alexei Emelin continues to make baffling mistakes both mentally and with the puck on a game-to-game basis and his partner Tom Gilbert has provided only nine points in 49 games played this season after being expected to anchor the second power-play unit. Veteran Mike Weaver has been a healthy scratch for most of the season and has appeared in only two games since the middle of December.
Michel Therrien will be wise to limit the minutes for Markov down the stretch, especially late in games where the outcome is more or less decided. The only problem is the Canadiens have an inability to score goals this year which has seen them play in a lot of one-goal games. Hard to limit your stud leader when the game is on the line. It would be nice to see the scoring pace pick up and Markov finish the stretch run playing around 20 minutes per game and subsequently have a bit more in the tank for the playoffs, where fans expect another long spring of hockey in Montreal.
It will be interesting to see how they play Markov during the home stretch of the season and how The General responds this year. Even if he does slow down next year and the last year of his deal, he will still be a valuable power-play producer. Kimmo Timonen in Philadelphia is a prime example of what kind of player Markov can develop into as he advances into his age 37 and 38 seasons. Not too shabby.
When its all said and done and he wraps up his career, there might very well be a #79 banner hanging in the rafters of the Bell Centre.