|Markov greets his teammates after scoring his third goal in two games. (Getty Images)|
WASHINGTON -- For the past three seasons, the Montreal Canadiens have been generally disappointing, never more so than the 2011-12 campaign that was a total mess.
Not so coincidentally, for the past three seasons Andrei Markov has been generally missing, leaving Habs fans disappointed. He has suffered through injury after injury and in case there was any doubt how much he was missed, he's doing a good job of reminding everybody now.
On Thursday night in Washington against the Capitals, Markov put his best skill on display, running the power play to near perfection. After the Habs methodically worked on a two-man advantage, he made an excellent pass in a spot where most guys in the league would have shot and a second later Tomas Plekanec was slamming the puck home. Not even a minute later the Habs found themselves on the power play again and this time Markov was around to pinch down and slam the puck home himself. It was great recognition to come down and find the wide open space for essentially a layup.
That brought Markov's goal total on the season to three already -- all in just the last two games. To put that into context, Markov had scored one goal in the past two seasons combined. It's safe to say he's healthy.
"I've never felt better than now," Markov stated bluntly.
It shows. The man on the back of the defense, Carey Price, certainly notices and is more than happy to have Markov back defending in front of him.
"He looks good," Price said of Markov. "He looked good when we were skating with him during the lockout. He had a few games to play in Russia so we're not surprised for him to get off to a good start."
Price is obviously an excellent goaltender on his own right but the presence of Markov has certainly helped Price give up only four goals in the first three games of the season. It wasn't until the closing minutes of Thursday's game that was well in hand that Price even gave up a goal at even strength.
That's because when he's healthy, Markov does it all for the Habs. Paired with the NHL's leading scorer among defenseman in the early going, Raphael Diaz, Markov is carrying the load at both ends. He led Montreal with 24:09 of ice time Thursday night, 3:58 on the power play and 4:48 on the PK.
With that type of play and production from Markov, it's no wonder the Habs are off to a nice 2-1-0 start with back-to-back shellackings of Southeast Division teams (Florida at home then 4-1 over the Capitals here).
"The way that he's playing right now, he controls the game really well," new Habs coach Michel Therrien said. "He's got such an important role for us and he's capable. He competes so hard. He's tough to play against. When there's a battle, Andrei competes really hard and he's doing a good job on the power play."
A veteran who has spent his whole career in Montreal going back to 2000-01, Markov was more than willing to share the credit. He is just happy the team is playing well.
"It was good [for me] but more important is the team win," Markov said. "It was another strong game, everybody worked hard. We have to keep playing, improve our game."
Who would have thought the defenseman the Habs would be so excited to get back on the ice this season wasn't necessarily P.K. Subban, who is still in a contract dispute and unsigned, but Markov? That's not to say they wouldn't love to have Subban back on the ice as soon as possible -- of course they would -- but Markov's return has almost felt like a new addition, and a stellar one at that.
It's certainly nice for the Canadiens to have him back, what was lost is now found again. That's the farthest thing from disappointing in Habs land these days.