Unlike my friend and colleague David Stubbs, I’m not into hockey memorabilia.
That said, one of my treasured keepsakes is a hockey page from Sport Express, a Russian publication "for those who speak the language of sport."
Damir Khayretdinov, Sport Express’s man in Montreal, speaks English. Early this season, we had a chat in the Bell Centre pressbox.
The subject was Andrei Markov.
I told Khayretdinov what any reasonably observant Montreal Canadiens fan could have told him: Markov is the most valuable player on the team.
The upshot was I got quoted in his feature on Markov. The Sport Express headline read, in Russian:
Boone: Canadiens can’t win without Markov
Big thrill for me, seeing my name in a newspaper published in the country where my ancestors may have been chased out of their shtetls by Andrei Markov’s ancestors.
Fortunately for the Canadiens, my theory was never tested.
Until last night.
Since the lockout, the Canadiens are 6-13-1 when Markov is out of the lineup, writes stats whiz François Gagnon of La Presse. Two seasons ago, he missed 13 games and the team lost 10 of them.
Need I remind anyone of how 2006-’07 ended?
It may come to that again: a crucial Saturday night game to wrap up the regular season, with the Canadiens needing a point to qualify for the playoffs. With Markov in the lineup in ’07, they lost in Toronto.
This Saturday, it’s Pittsburgh at the Bell Centre. Maybe Markov will have made a miraculous recovery. Bob Gainey would not confirm the RDS report that a left knee injury has shelved the defenceman for three weeks.
And maybe the Canadiens can avoid the Saturday nailbiter by winning at Madison Square Garden tonight. That would put them five points up on the Rangers, who have two to play, and sew up at least an eighth place finish.
Can the Canadiens win in New York or in Boston on Thursday evening?
Hey, anything is possible.
After 51 minutes without the team MVP, the Canadiens led Ottawa 2-1 last night. But then the game was lost in 38 Markov-less seconds, which is how long it took Dany Heatley to score twice against the defence pairings of Josh Gorges/Mike Komisarek and Roman Hamrlik/Doug Janik.
It’s not fair to single out the D-men. They played their hearts out last night – particularly Gorges, who was outstanding. He, Komisarek and Hamrlik had to play Markov minutes, in excess of 25 … and in Komisarek’s case, 26:21.
Janik’s turnover in the neutral zone led to Heatley’s winner, but the Hamilton call-up was otherwise effective, as was Patrice Brisebois.
Ryan O’Byrne was awful: two giveaways, six minutes in penalties – including a double minor that incensed Bob Gainey because O’Byrne was retaliating against a Senator who had shot the puck after a whistle.
The coach sat O’B for the third period as part of a bench-shortening strategy that might have worked if Maxim Lapierre didn’t get into a fight with Brian Lee nine minutes into the third.
With Lapierre gone for five minutes and then Saku Koivu developing a problem with his skate that idled him for a few shifts, Gainey had to juggle his lines. Glen Metropolit was on with Alex Kovalev and Alex Tanguay when Heatley scored the winner.
Again, it’s unfair to dis Metropolit. As usual, the fourth line centre gave it all he had last night. The Canadiens were simply outmanned, and credit Cory Clouston with a good in-game adjustment.
Seeing early-on that the Dany Heatley-Daniel Alfredson-Jason Spezza line was not doing much against Tomas Plekanec, Christopher Higgins and Mathieu Dandenault, Opie switched Heatley to Mike Fisher’s line.
Bingo! Two goals … and a W against a team that needed two points.
• The Canadiens’ power play failed to score for the first time in seven games. With Roman Hamrlik and Patrice Brisebois replacing Markov and Mathieu Schneider, the Senators were able to concentrate their PK efforts down low, where they effectively stymied Alex Kovalev, Alex Tanguay and Saku Koivu. It didn’t help that the second wave was totally ineffective.
• Even with his skate problem, Saku Koivu played 19:08. That’s too much. The valiant but aging Captain played 13 minutes against the Leafs and Islanders, 16 against Chicago – all Ws.
• Dany Dubé, CKAC’s brilliant analyst, predicted before the game that the loss of Markov would be most acutely felt in the Canadiens’ ability to get out of their zone and into offensive flow. Without the player who consistently makes crisp, accurate first passes, zone clearances were laborious and the forwards rarely were able to move through the neutral zone in possession and at speed.
• Ottawa had a 42-22 advantage in hits. Nick Foligno had six hits, Mike Fisher and Chris Neil five each, three Senators had four. Roman Hamrlik led the Canadiens with four. Mike Komisarek and Ryan O’Byrne had none.
• Tomas Plekanec was 9-5 on faceoffs and did a nice defensive job on Jason Spezza. But Pleks hasn’t registered a point in the Canadiens’ last five games.
Madison Square Garden tonight.
The Sean Avery Show.
And for the Game of the Season – first in potentially a series of three – no Markov.
Crank up the Russian headline:
Boone: They’re screwed.
Chronic pessimism is my shtetl DNA.