Players as good as Andrei Markov never go unnoticed, but by the same token, sometimes it’s difficult to appreciate everything a guy like Markov brings.
The Montreal Canadiens have, of course, felt the void created by Markov’s absence. The Russian defenseman was lost before the Canadiens’ first game of the year ended, having severed a tendon in his ankle when he came into contact with goalie Carey Price’s skate. He’s healing well ahead of schedule and is expected back in the lineup very soon.
Everybody knew the power play would suffer without Markov’s vision and precision passing, but don’t forget how much he helps the Habs on the defensive side of things, too. Because he’s in no way a bruiser, you don’t always notice the things Markov is doing to negate scoring chances.
First and foremost, the puck spends a lot of time on his stick whenever he’s on the ice. Markov has a panic threshold very few in the league posses, meaning he holds the puck until just the right moment, then fires a tape-to-tape pass to one of his breaking teammates.
Only six teams in the league have been giving up more shots on average than the 31.6 the Canadiens have allowed through Saturday’s contest with Atlanta. That number will drop when Markov returns based simply on the fact he controls the play so well and allows Montreal to do more attacking than defending.
As mentioned, Markov certainly won’t strike fear into anybody’s heart with his physical game, but that doesn’t mean he’s not a highly competent defender. His positioning is excellent and good defense is based much more on being in the right spot and making good decisions than driving players through the boards.
The power play, which has been average at best, will also benefit tremendously now that Markov can, among other things, tee up passes to Marc-Andre Bergeron at the point.
The Canadiens have kept their head above water without their best player all season and getting him back means the club is much better in a number of ways.
This article also appeared in the Montreal Metro newspaper.
Ryan Dixon is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Thursday and his column, Top Shelf, appears Wednesday.
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