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|22 апреля 2013 года.
Time to give Markov a rest; Team will need him when playoffs begin // The Gazette
During the grim winter of 1999, I spent two weeks in Moscow working on a series of articles on Russian hockey.
Russia was in chaos. The ruble had collapsed the previous August. Rival gangsters were gunning each other down on the street and massacring bankers. Genteel women in their 50s and 60s stood in the cold outside metro stations, trying to sell cracked and broken vases. Younger women stood shivering in the cold in thin dresses, hoping to sell their bodies.
There was a flu epidemic, and many of the people I wanted to interview were sick in bed - but the hockey was great. On the advice of Pierre McGuire, I keyed on the Dynamo Moscow team and three young NHL draft choices.
They were the flashy Maxim Afinogenov, who had a decent NHL career before spending the past three seasons with SKA St. Petersburg; the hulking Nik Antropov, who is still in the NHL with the Winnipeg Jets - and a converted forward named Andrei Markov, who was teeing it up on the blue line for Dynamo after being drafted in the sixth round of the 1998 draft, 162nd overall, by Canadiens GM Rejean Houle.
Give McGuire credit: He was high on Afinogenov, but he told me that Markov was the one to watch, and he was right. Markov had moved to Moscow that season from Voskresensk Khimik. He was still learning to play the blue line, but he was a smooth skater and an accurate passer.
When we set up a post-game interview with the young trio of Dynamo stars, Afinogenov had plenty to say. Antropov was gruff, but happy to talk. Markov, even in Russian, was painfully shy and almost completely silent. I managed to coax a few semi-audible words out of him, but it was obvious that his game would be on the ice, not off it.
Before long, of course, Markov was making Patrice Brisebois look far better than he ever was. Over a dozen seasons, Markov has emerged as the Canadiens' best defenceman and Houle's most brilliant draft choice.
Not only that, but he's become an articulate interview and a team leader - in English.
Knowing where he came from, knowing what Russia was like during that grim winter when Markov was sharpening his skills for the NHL, I have always felt a particular sympathy for the man and his game.
More than any other factor, his play the first half of this season was responsible, in my view, for the Canadiens' turnaround.
The remarkable thing is that he's playing at all.
After Carey Price's skate blade sliced a tendon in his left ankle during the opening game of the 2009-10 season, Markov was propelled into a run of bad luck that threatened his career.
He came back, but suffered a more serious injury during the playoffs in the spring of 2010 when Pittsburgh dirty-tricks specialist Matt Cooke took out his knee in a play along the boards.
Markov tried to come back too soon to help his team, reinjured the knee, and during the next two seasons played a total of 20 games. Overall, fans and media give him no credit at all for enduring all that.
No matter that Markov has shown remarkable courage and determination in coming back at all or that he was the team's best defenceman during the first half of this season: He is a favourite target of the Twitter posse, cursed as too old, too slow and too fragile, blamed for everything from the Canadiens' current losing streak to the lousy spring weather.
To be fair, Markov looks tired and beat up and it's probably true that he hasn't been the same since Alexei Emelin was hurt in a 2-1 victory over the Bruins at the Bell Centre April 6. Emelin was sidelined for the season and Markov very much misses his physical, stay-at-home partner.
The night Emelin was hurt, Markov played a shade under 24 minutes and was a minus-1.
He was over 25 minutes with another minus-1 in the club's next game, a loss to Washington, minus-1 with two points and a power-play goal against Buffalo, minus-2 in the debacle in Toronto that signalled the beginning of this skid, minus-1 against the Flyers, even with a late goal against Pittsburgh, minus-1 against Tampa Bay and minus-1 against the Caps on Saturday.
Since Emelin went down, Markov is minus-8 in eight games, while consistently playing between 22 to 26 minutes throughout.
Remember, this is a guy who hasn't played anything like a full season since 2008-09. This season, he has played 21 games with Chekhov Vityaz and 45 games with the Habs during a short, brutally intense NHL campaign.
Markov isn't old, but he is 34, trying to run a marathon after four years of short sprints. Rather than cursing Markov, fans and the media in this town need to take the long view of what he's trying to accomplish here, understand how very difficult that is in light of his recent history and cut the guy a break.
The Canadiens are going to need Markov in the playoffs. They have three remaining games, all on the road, against New Jersey, Winnipeg and Toronto. At this point, playoff seeding means less than being ready to play in the post-season. With every game, it seems, the Habs edge a little closer to a first-round date with the Leafs, which would be traumatic - especially for a team that is less than healthy.
Michel Therrien needs to rest Markov and a banged-up Brandon Prust. This team is capable of winning any of the last three games without Markov and Prust - if Price gets back on his game. If he doesn't, there isn't a whole lot the two veterans can do to help, now or in the playoffs.
If you want to know what's wrong with this team, stop cursing Markov and try to understand what it does to your team when your goalie lets in a soft one. As someone said on Twitter on Saturday night, "you might as well go along the bench and kick every one of your teammates in the (testicles.)"
Price has put the Canadiens in an early hole night after night during this stretch. Nor is he showing the career trajectory you'd like to see in a relatively young goalie. His numbers have got significantly worse over the past three seasons, from a 2.35 goals-against average and a .923 save percentage to 2.43 and .916 last year and a woeful 2.59 and .905 this campaign, with a far better team in front of him.
Having Markov and Prust healthy and rested will help. Having Price where he was during the 2011 playoffs against Boston, when he put up a .934 save percentage and a 2.11 GAA while facing the eventual Stanley Cup winners? That would help a good deal more.
Price needs to get in touch with his inner pit bull. Blame Markov all you want: the simple truth is that either Price turns it around, or the Canadiens are on the golf course by mid-May, one and done.
Heroes: Andrei Markov, Brian Gionta, Alex Galchenyuk, Gabriel Dumont, Brendan Gallagher, Bryce Harper, Dwayne Casey, Steve Nash, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Stephen Curry, Sergei Bobrovsky, Braden Holtby, Troy Brouwer &&&& last but not least, Alex Ovechkin - who would get my Hart Trophy vote if I had one.
Zeros: Matt Cooke, Sebastien Vettel, Bernie Ecclestone, those Pirelli tires, Mike Duffy, Patrick Brazeau, Bryan Colangelo, Tom Garfinkel, Carlos Quentin, Pierre Gauthier, the battling McCourts, Lance Armstrong, Claude Brochu, Curt Schilling, David Samson, Jeffrey Loria &&&& last but not least, Luis Suarez - who seems to have developed Mikhail Grabovski disease.