The Engels Angle: Markov's Health Should Push Canadiens up Playoff Ranks
by Eric Engels
Published Tuesday, August 2, 2011 12:00PM EDT
MONTREAL - The Montreal Canadiens have a lot of questions to answer if they're to improve on last year's position and ultimately have a more successful playoff run.
Will Carey Price be as good as he was last season?
Will P.K. Subban find the next gear in his evolution?
Will Josh Gorges' fixed knee bring more out of him than we've seen before?
Will Gomez rebound?
Will Cammalleri rebound?
Will Alexei Emelin be able to make a smooth transition to NHL hockey?
Will Kostitsyn have a big season, ahead of unrestricted free agency?
Will Eller and Desharnais provide the secondary scoring most believe they're capable of?
Will Max Pacioretty be the same player he was before his horrific run in with Zdeno Chara?
Will Erik Cole adjust quickly to being a Montreal Canadien?
A positive outcome in most of these cases will see the Canadiens improve their standing and be better prepared for a longer playoff drive. But the biggest question headed into this season has to be about Andrei Markov's status and whether or not he can be the player he was before this rash of terrible injuries overtook his career.
It's not just the two reconstructive knee surgeries. At the end of the 2008-2009 season, one in which Markov dominated the league with 64 points (2nd only to Mike Green's freakish 73 points in 68 games), he suffered a knee-sprain in a collision with Toronto's Mikhail Grabovski that kept him out of Montreal's embarrassing playoff loss to the Bruins. After extensive summer-rehab, Markov's first game back (the Canadiens' first of the 2009-10 season) - coincidentally, also in Toronto - he had an awkward collision with Carey Price and lacerated his Achilles Tendon, keeping him from the Canadiens' lineup for 35 games. He managed 34 points in the 45 games he played in '09-10.
How will Markov deal with trying to play his first full season since 2008? How will he adjust to rebounding from four major injuries (three of them involving reconstructive surgery)?
Markov's a powerplay guru
What do Sheldon Souray, Mark Streit and Marc-Andre Bergeron have in common? All of them have made more money than they're worth thanks to Markov's powerplay wizardry.
Believe it or not, with a potent arsenal that included Alex Kovalev, Saku Koivu, Tomas Plekanec, Andrei Kostitsyn, Alex Tanguay, and eventually Mathieu Schneider, the Canadiens only finished with a 19.2% efficiency rating, which was good enough for 13th place in the league.
The season before that, when the Canadiens soared to the top of the Eastern standings, they had the best powerplay in the league, at 24.1% efficiency (three percentage points higher than the next best, Philadelphia Flyers), despite losing Souray and replacing him with Streit.
In 2006-07, Markov's powerplay performance priced Souray out of Montreal. Markov set Souray up for most of the 19 powerplay goals he scored, and the team finished with the league's best efficiency rate once again, at 22.8%.
Going back to the first season after the lockout, 2005-06, Markov helped the Canadiens achieve the fifth-best powerplay rank in the league.
He's got guns to work with this year
I went over this yesterday in my hockeybuzz column. With Markov's return, the Canadiens should be among the best powerplay teams in the league this season.
Markov will have shooting options no matter who he plays with, and centres that can get him the puck on his back-door rushes to the net.
He'll have Subban and Weber to fire shots from the point, he'll have Cammalleri opening up the right side of the ice with a one-timer option, he'll have Cole and Pacioretty working the front of the net, he'll have Kostitsyn and Gionta as low left-side shooting options, and he'll have Plekanec and Gomez to feed him when he sneaks in.
There's no question the Canadiens need to find more offence at 5-on-5, and the changes to the back-end (removing Sopel, Hamrlik, Mara , Picard and Wisniewski, and adding a healthy Markov and Gorges, as well as young developing legs in Subban, Weber, Emelin and Diaz) gives the team a more capable core of puck-movers, thus influencing that situation. But Markov's return should bring the powerplay efficiency up a notch or two, and that can go a long way towards securing the extra goal/game Price needs to lock things down.