MONTREAL – After battling knee injuries for two seasons, Andrei Markov is looking like his old, dominant self on the Montreal Canadiens blue-line.
The veteran defenceman scored a pair of goals—his first in only 17 games played since Nov. 9, 2010—as the Canadiens downed the Florida Panthers 4-1 on Tuesday night.
“Every goal and win is special,” said Markov, who has endured two surgeries on the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. “I’m happy to be back and happy to be healthy and I’m just enjoying playing, especially here in front of our fans.”
It was also a big night for 18-year-old Alex Galchenyuk, who scored his first NHL goal.
His tip of a Brandon Prust shot at 14:25 of the second period drew deafening applause from the 21,273 Bell Centre spectators, who see the third overall pick from the June draft as a future star.
“To have a crowd like that was just phenomenal,” said Galchenyuk. “Every single guy (on the bench) congratulated me, but it was only the second period and I had to stay focused.
“It was nice to get the first one out of the way.”
Tomas Plekanec also scored for Montreal (1-1-0), while Rafael Diaz and Max Pacioretty each had two assists.
Tomas Kopecky scored for Florida (1-2-0), which was coming off a 4-0 loss in Ottawa on Monday night and looked lifeless playing a third game in four nights.
Markov was Montreal’s top defenceman before his injuries and the team struggled without him the last two seasons, falling to last place in the Eastern Conference last season.
The knee held up as he played in the KHL during the lockout and he was among the few Canadiens that looked strong in a season-opening 2-0 loss to Toronto on Saturday.
He was even better in his second game back, finding the open man and moving the puck with crisp, precision passes.
Coach Michel Therrien said he played like a general on defence.
“He scored two goals, and at the other end of the ice he controlled the play,” said Therrien.
It was the first win for Therrien since starting his second stint as head coach in Montreal, but when Price brought him the game puck, he passed it on to Marc Bergevin, who got his first victory as general manager.
“It was more important for him,” said Therrien.
The coach opted to make a healthy scratch of Lars Eller and move Galchenyuk to his natural position at centre on the third line. He also put Brendan Gallagher on that line with tough guy Prust and the energetic little winger got his first NHL point on Galchenyuk’s goal.
“I thought Alex played well,” said Therrien. “He played more his type of game than he did in the first one.
“Sometimes when you play with another young guy you play your game more instead of trying to please the veterans.”
Galchenyuk, who helped the U.S. win gold at the world junior championship only three weeks ago, is making a case to stay in Montreal the rest of the season instead of returning to the junior Sarnia Sting.
Florida goalie Scott Clemmensen went into the game with a 6-0 career record against Montreal, but it was Carey Price who got the win as the Canadiens had a 33-28 shot advantage.
Both Markov goals came on the power play.
After Plekanec scored from the slot on a feed from Brian Gionta 3:26 into the game, Markov blasted one in from the slot during a two-man advantage at 13:24.
Kopecky got one back with a man advantage 4:33 into the second period as he one-timed Tomas Fleischmann’s pass in from the right circle.
Markov got his second on a low blast from the point at 8:31.
With restricted free agent P.K. Subban still holding out, the Canadiens lack a pure shooter from the point on the power play. Markov and Diaz formed an efficient pair even though both normally prefer passing to shooting.
“Everybody has to be a shooter,” said Markov. “It’s about feeling. If you see the traffic in front of the net, why not?”
The Canadiens killed off a five-minute penalty that included two minutes down two men in the third period.
Notes: A pre-game video was shown honouring Radio-Canada broadcaster Richard Garneau, who died this week … Canadiens legend and 1945 NHL MVP Elmer Lach turned 95 on Tuesday. . . Eller was sent to the pressbox as Gallagher moved onto the third line for his NHL debut. . . Newly named captain Ed Jovanovski was scratched…. Kris Versteeg is out with a groin injury, which put Drew Shore into his first NHL game.