As the game unfolded the other night against Tampa, it marked the 16th game of the season that we had begun without our all-star Andrei Markov. It may not sound like much, but it's the first time since Andrei made the NHL grade that he has missed more than 15 games in a single season.
In the past sometimes, it seemed like an injury to Markov was a one-way ticket to losing streak. However, this time around, the Canadiens have done an OK job of battling for points and scrounging some wins. As we descend into the next 30 games without Andrei, I thought I'd take a glance at some of the stats with and without him manning the back line.
Winning and losing
It's sometimes hard to test the value of any given player, because the experiment consists of so many variables. Even with a mere 24 game sample from the regular season and a lone playoff series, I don't think we'd be reaching a false conclusion if we suggested the Canadiens are a much worse outfit without Andrei Markov. Really the stats speak for themselves:
24 games, 5 wins, 19 losses, 13 points. It's not flattering for the rest of the guys is it? Certainly when you compare that record to the record with him in the lineup over the same period (168-107-30 for 366 points).
If you pro-rate the stats to an 82-game schedule the Habs from 2005-09 without Markov would have been a pitiful 44 point outfit (17-55-10) – not seen since the days of expansion newbies and Pittsburgh dogging it. With him in the lineup, their pro-rated points total would be a solid 96-point group (45-29-6).
But the impact goes well beyond the wins and losses. As you can see from the limited sample, what has tended to happen when Markov has been missing has shown his talent at both ends of the ice. In the 24 previous games, goals for dropped by one full goal per 60 minutes, while goals against rose by an equally remarkable 0.7 per game.
Being that Markov is an all-star who perennially flirts with the scoring lead among defenceman, it's perhaps not surprising to see a drop in PP efficiency wen he's not around to distribute. But take a look at the PK in his absence – a reminder of his second personality:
With the best overall PP in both 2006-07 and 2007-08, and a pretty decent scoring clip before and after, it's pretty safe to say that Markov is one of the premier QBs of the circuit. In fact, you get 5 PPs with Markov in a game, you'd be disappointed not to score a goal.
The Canadiens, however, have been blessed with some insulation for Markov on the PP at times – Souray and Streit, for example in 2006-07 – so his absence has cost but not too too drastically. Glance at the PK situation without Markov, though, and get an idea of what he means at the defensive end. Whether it be quick movement and anticipation, or using his passing skills to find the way out of the zone, his skills on the PK have been missed to the tune of nearly 12.5%. If you translate that to a whole season – with about 360 penalties – you're talking about 45 goals.
I suppose a forward moving to the point is much less of a downgrade than having a 5th defender playing with regularity on a penalty kill.
This season, Markov was lost to serious injury a mere 50 minutes in. Given our understanding of the previous 24 games without him, there was understandable gloom at the time. I certainly felt some major doubts.
If you look across the stats, you can see that the PP is suffering as much if not more than it has ever done, but that goalscoring is holding truer. You can see that PK is sub-standard, but still within a few goals of the Markov standard and the overall goals against have been holding closer as well. You can fret about each of those, especially compared to league averages. Nonetheless, here we stand 17 games in, and 6 weeks closer to February, with 16 points from 17 games. Not great, perhaps, but a minor miracle given the precedent.
I think it speaks a little bit to some of the moves that were made over the summer (many of which have received a proper thrashing from fans), specifically:
He's been a goalscorer from unconventional plays which has helped and a solid contributor up front. What's more, he's been able to tip the ice in the Habs favour by a large margin thus far.
I said I liked the signing at the time, but I didn't really know what to expect. Well, he's no Markov on the PP (not even close), but he eats minutes and has been on the ice for 22 more chances at even strength than he has allowed, and 41 overall.
3) Letting Bouillon go
A hard move to put through given his popularity and his familiarity with the RDS crew, but one that needed to be made. Last season he was on the ice for a GA every 20 minutes he played. Had he been under contract as a #6 this year, that'd be a goal a game. I don't want to disparage a player I loved, but I think his last legs were correctly recognised.
As I said, there weren't miracles here, just quiet steps in the general direction. Could a team really be as bad as the Habs have been without Markov in the past over a sustained period? Hard to say. I don't think after the 0-7-1 end to last season, anyone would have asked to put it to the test.
I think if anything good is to come from this injury to Andrei it will be the shedding of an over-reliance on a single player in all aspects of play. Perhaps when he comes back he can be introduced gradually, rather than straight into 30 minutes a night.
Who misses Markov most?
Finally, I wanted to note that though we all miss Markov, none might miss him more than Carey Price and Jaroslav Halak. If only for his poise on the PK alone, Carey might have added 100 points to his sub-standard PK save rating, and he and Halak might have been able to count on zone clearances actually happening.