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Veteran Hamrlik ready for extra duties as Habs face stretch without Markov

The Hockey News

The Hockey News

MONTREAL - Veteran Roman Hamrlik said he is ready to take on extra duties for the Montreal Canadiens now that it appears top defenceman Andrei Markov will be out of the lineup for the long term with a knee injury.

Hamrlik, a 36-year-old blue-liner, is expected to get more ice time and power-play responsibilities in Markov's absence.

Coach Jacques Martin said Tuesday that Markov was still being evaluated by doctors, but there have been reports he has a torn ligament in his right knee that could keep the team's power-play quarterback out of action for months.

Markov is to see a specialist later this week when the swelling subsides to get a clear diagnosis and decide whether surgery is needed.

Hamrlik was in Markov's spot on the point along with rookie P.K. Subban during the team's morning skate before their game Tuesday night against the Philadelphia Flyers.

''It seems to me like I'm put into the same shoes I was put in last year when he was out of the lineup,'' said Hamrlik. ''I don't have a problem with that.

''As long as I keep my feet moving, make the first pass. I know my game. I feel comfortable out there. I have no problem with playing lots of minutes.''

Last season, Markov suffered a deep skate cut in the season opener against Toronto and sat out the next 35 games. Hamrlik put in more than 25 minutes of ice time per game while Markov was away. Strong play by Hamrlik and defence partner Jaroslav Spacek helped keep the Canadiens in the playoff race.

Markov went down again last spring with a torn ACL in his right knee. He was hurt in the second-round playoff opener against Pittsburgh and needed surgery. Markov missed training camp and the first 10 games this season.

He was just rounding into form when he got tangled with Eric Staal during a 7-2 win over Carolina on Saturday night and fell to the ice with what appeared to be another injury to the same knee.

The Canadiens, as is their wont, refer to it only as a "lower-body injury.''

Without Markov, the Canadiens struggled with the man advantage, scoring only three goals in their first 14 games, but they had six in 15 opportunities in three straight wins last week to jump from last to 20th in the 30-team NHL in power-play success.

Now they hope the experience they gained during Markov's previous absences will help them to keep scoring.

''No doubt Andrei helped our power play but he wasn't the reason why we had some difficulties early in the year,'' said Martin. ''I don't think it was because of one player, I just think we weren't in sync, 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.''

Alexandre Picard returns to the lineup after sitting out the seven games after Markov returned. The 25-year-old did a decent job early in the season and now should get regular playing time on the team's third unit with Subban.

''I just hope I can play the way I did at the start of the season,'' said the Gatineau, Que., native, who had one goal and was plus-7 in nine games.



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