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28 октября 2003 года.
Better than expected. Markov having impact on Canes - newsobserver

By LUKE DECOCK, Staff Writer

RALEIGH -- It was the kind of drill where defensemen are expected to shoot the puck and high-tail it back up ice.

As Danny Markov closed in on Jamie Storr, he put a move on the surprised Storr, stickhandling around him for a tap-in. 

Markov skated back up the ice smiling and couldn't resist turning his head to shoot a grin in Storr's direction.

As was the case in Monday's practice, smiles and surprises have marked the first few games of Markov's tenure with the Carolina Hurricanes.

He was acquired from Phoenix for a pair of former first-round picks, and his threats to play in Russia earned him a three-year, $8.7 million contract from the Canes.

Seven games into the season, with the San Jose Sharks at the RBC Center tonight, the 27-year-old Russian has been as good as advertised.

"I think he's still adjusting to our team and our players," Carolina defenseman Sean Hill said. "But definitely, the last few games you're starting to see what everybody was so excited about when we got him."

Markov played a key role in the Canes taking four of six points from their three-game road trip to Pittsburgh, Boston and Philadelphia.

Against the Penguins, Markov played 28 minutes, 23 seconds, the most by any Cane this season.

Against the Bruins, he was quietly spectacular, playing almost a mistake-free game.

Against the Flyers, Markov did much of the work on Carolina's third goal. With the puck at the blue line, Markov had an open shot but decided instead to set up Radim Vrbata. When Vrbata tumbled into Flyers goalie Jeff Hackett, Markov charged in to shove the loose puck into an open net for his first goal with the Canes.

As Markov adjusts to playing defense for the Canes, Carolina coach Paul Maurice expects more offense.

"The next thing we'll see is the shot," Maurice said.

Markov has a nasty shot, one he can get off quickly because although he's a left-handed shot, he prefers to play on the right side.

That has yet to have an impact on Carolina's struggling power play, although he has been used heavily in that role. In fact, they've used him heavily in every role. Markov has been Carolina's defensive ice-time leader in all but one game -- and that one, Thursday at Boston, came less than 24 hours after Markov's marathon at Pittsburgh.

"At the end of the game, he looks like he'd like to play another period," Maurice said. "When we got him, [Phoenix coach] Bobby Francis told me, 'You can play him all night.' You have to be careful with that, because that's a dangerous thing."

Which may be why Markov was quick to point out 28 minutes is not much by his standards.

"My record is 31," Markov said. "With Phoenix."

Still, at 26:01 per night, Markov is fifth in the NHL -- behind Nicklas Lidstrom, Chris Pronger and Sergei Gonchar, all perennial Norris Trophy candidates.

But Markov's impact on the Canes extends beyond how much time he spends on the ice. By taking over such a key role on the defense, he has allowed returning defensemen to settle into roles that allow less responsibility.

Hill and Glen Wesley get help from Markov and Bret Hedican against the opposition's top players. And instead of playing heavy minutes as they did last year, Aaron Ward, Bruno St. Jacques and Niclas Wallin have been able to maximize their effort in lesser duty -- Wallin most of all.

His two goals against the Flyers got the attention, but he also played the kind of solid defensive game that was missing from his repertoire last season. As the Canes' sixth defenseman, he's a tremendous asset. As their fourth defenseman, he's a liability.

"It filters right through to every guy," Carolina general manager Jim Rutherford. "You can see it with every one of those defensemen. Their play is more relaxed and improved compared to last year. Nic's another example of that."

It's still early in Markov's tenure with the Canes. After all, at this point three seasons ago the Canes were feeling pretty good about what Sandis Ozolinsh was doing for the team -- another similarly hyped acquisition, who turned out to be a poor fit for Carolina's style.

But Markov isn't as flashy as Ozolinsh, and his true value has little to do with how many goals he sets up or scores. As much as was expected of Markov, so far, he has been better.

"Honestly, about 10 times better," Carolina forward Jeff O'Neill said. "I thought he was a banging defenseman, which is odd for a Russian or European. But when you see him every day first-hand, his approach to the game and everything, he's an excellent player -- very, very underrated."

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