Full steam ahead
BUFFALO – The Canadiens are on a roll, and Andrei Markov continues to play a significant part in pacing Michel Therrien’s troops to key victories in a league where every point is of primordial importance.
On Wednesday night, the 34-year-old proved once again that he's among the NHL's elite on the back end, factoring in on all three of the Canadiens goals in a 3-1 victory over the Buffalo Sabres at the First Niagara Center. It was the Habs’ fourth straight win, which matched a season-high dating back to mid-October when the Canadiens last managed to earn eight out of a possible eight points.
Therrien, who has watched Markov register six points in the squad's last four games, was quick to praise the Russian rearguard in the aftermath of the Canadiens’ latest win. The Habs bench boss saw the consummate workhorse log 27:37 of ice time over the course of 29 shifts, both of which were tops among all skaters.
“Andrei is playing inspired hockey right now. He’s in excellent shape. He puts so much effort in at the gym, and it shows in his play,” lauded Therrien, whose club now sits just four points back of the Atlantic division leading Boston Bruins with 30 points on the year. “He played a great game again tonight. He’s got great vision of the play and a good understanding of the game as a whole.”
Most notably, of course, when it comes to the power play. A quarterback on the man advantage alongside one of league's finest point-producing rearguards in P.K. Subban, Markov has played an integral role in helping the Canadiens to lead the league in power play efficiency on road ice. David Desharnais’ tally on Ryan Miller while the bleu-blanc-rouge were up a man in the second period ensured that the Habs lit the lamp in 11 consecutive road tilts this season, a new team record. In short, the Canadiens have at least one power play goal in each away game they've contested thus far in 2013-14.
"Maybe it’s because we try to play more simple than at home. So far, it’s been working and we have to keep playing that way,” offered Markov, who recorded an assist on Desharnais’ goal, in addition to adding helpers on goals from Alex Galchenyuk in the opening frame and Brendan Gallagher’s third-period power play marker that ultimately sealed the win for the Canadiens when they were clinging to a 2-1 lead with 1:44 remaining in regulation time.
“I think a power play is about a unit of five," added the two-time Olympian, who now sits second on the team alongside Galchenyuk with 17 points on the year. "The five guys on the ice have to work together and support each other and move the puck and try to score goals. We got pucks to the net and we scored two goals today on the power play. It gives us a good chance to win.”
Watching Markov work his magic on a nightly basis, Carey Price isn’t surprised to see him routinely playing at the top of his game at this point in the year. He also knows just how much one of his best defenders means to the success of the Canadiens going forward during a long and often taxing regular season campaign.
“He’s a big part of our group. There’s no question about that. He’s a strong, silent type, but he definitely brings that experience and that leadership to our room. He’s a big part of our power play, and he plays very strong defensively,” underlined Price, who turned aside 24 of the 25 shots he faced on Wednesday night to up his record to 10-8-2 on the season.
“He works really hard. He’s in the gym every day,” added Price. “He takes no short cuts out there, and he’s earned all of the respect he’s gotten.”
With veterans like Markov in tow playing hard-nosed hockey and contributing on the scoresheet, the Canadiens continue to trend in the right direction in a highly competitive Eastern conference race.
Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.
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The Numbers Game – November 27, 2013