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Tuesday, November 16, 2010
Another Markov-less chapter begins for Canadiens

By Pierre LeBrun

MONTREAL -- Another chapter begins without Andrei Markov.

The Montreal Canadiens announced Tuesday night that their star defenseman would be out for a "long-term absence" after re-injuring the same right knee he had surgically repaired last summer.

In the meantime, life without Andrei begins again, and it's getting to the point where the Habs are almost used to it. They played playoff games without him last spring and began this season without him (going 7-2-1). Now comes another chapter sans Markov.

The emergence of P.K. Subban has helped ease the pain. Before Subban, the Canadiens were ill-suited to replace Markov's vision, creativity, puck-moving ability and dynamic presence at both ends of the ice. But Subban, a future star who is still blossoming, has provided some of those skills; and while the Canadiens will never be as good without Markov, they're not nearly as depleted as they would have been before Subban's arrival.

Replacing Markov alongside Subban on the top power-play unit will be veteran Roman Hamrlik, a move revealed after Tuesday morning's practice. And why not? When he broke into this league 18 NHL seasons ago with Tampa Bay, he was a fixture with the man advantage for many years. Hamrlik has become known as more of a steady, defensive player in the second half of his career. But the 36-year-old is an adequate presence on the power play.

"As long as I keep my feet moving, make the first pass, I know my game," Hamrlik said Tuesday after the pregame skate. "I feel comfortable out there. You have to stay simple. I have no problem with playing lots of minutes.

"I've been in that situation before," Hamrlik added. "I'll just play simple, get the puck at the net. We had a good game on the power play the other night. We scored a few goals and hopefully we can play with that confidence tonight."

After languishing at 29th or 30th in the league on the power play in the opening month of the season, the Canadiens have risen to 20th overall. The question is, was it because of Markov?

"No doubt Andrei helped our power play, but he wasn't the reason why we had some difficulties early in the year," Martin said Tuesday. "I don't think it's because of one player, I just think we weren't in synch, we weren't working hard enough, we weren't moving the puck quickly enough and we were trying to be too fancy. I think power plays are best when you keep things simplified, when you move the puck quickly and you have good net presence."

If the power play doesn't click in Markov's absence, another option for the Canadiens, in my mind, would eventually be Swiss blueliner Yannick Weber, a smooth-skating puck-mover lighting it up in the AHL with Hamilton so far this season. He has eight goals and four assists in 14 games through Monday night.