WASHINGTON — Do Andrei Markov and P.K. Subban form one of the best defensive pairings in the National Hockey League?
It seems like a simple enough question, but there were no clear-cut answers when it was posed Thursday.
“We can’t talk about that until the end of the season,” Markov said after the Canadiens worked out at the Verizon Centre in preparation for Friday’s game against the Washington Capitals (5 p.m., TSN-HABS, RDS, TSN Radio 690).
Coach Michel Therrien said the duo is “great,” but added he wasn’t able to go as far as saying they’re among the best in the NHL because he hasn’t seen every team and he doesn’t want to disrespect the competition.
But there’s no doubt Markov and Subban are elite players who are at the top of their games. They are among the defence scoring leaders with Subban at 21 points and Markov 17. They are the anchors of one of the top power plays in the NHL and their defence is reflected in their plus/minus figures — Markov is plus-11 and Subban plus-7.
Therrien talks about the chemistry between the two and Markov flashed his wit when asked about the secret to their chemistry.
“If it’s a secret, I can’t talk about it,” the Russian veteran said.
“I think we play pretty good, especially on the power play,” Markov added. “He has that great shot and we’re having fun. We just have to keep it going. We try to play our game and do our best on the ice. When you’re winning, it’s easy.”
The 34-year-old Markov has been through a series of knee operations and says: “My knees get old, they’re not going to get better.”
But Therrien said Markov is faster than he was last year and his conditioning has allowed him to average 25:13 of ice time a game. That’s the most on the team, with Subban close behind at 24:50.
“He’s been putting in effort and that’s the key when you want to get better,” Therrien said of Markov. “He’s phenomenal. He’s a leader out there, a general, a quarterback. Whatever position we put him in — on offence, on defence to take away their top player — he’s always up to the challenge.”
Subban said one of the keys to the partnership is communication.
“Before last year, we didn’t play much (together),” Subban said. “Marky knows how much respect I have for him. I remember when he came back from his knee injury, we were at a team building exercise and he said: ‘I’m looking forward to playing with you and right now we’re starting off as the bottom pairing, but we’re going to be the No. 1 pairing in Montreal.’ It took a couple of years, but we started off on the right foot last year and it’s great he’s continuing this year. He was a great player all last year and we’ve continued this season. We talk a lot, we communicate a lot in terms of what we want to do on the ice. He may not talk a lot to you guys, but we’re always talking.”
Subban says he’s constantly trying to improve and he uses Markov as a role model.
“This year marks the first I’ve taken a day off when we’ve had an optional skate and I’ve been banged up,” Subban said. “I never did that in the past because Marky never took a day off.”
Defenceman Douglas Murray took a day off Thursday. He needed some stitches on his forehead after fighting John Scott during Wednesday’s 3-1 win in Buffalo, and it will be a few days before Murray can comfortably wear a helmet. The defenceman will be a scratch against the Capitals, with Francis Bouillon moving back into the lineup.
With back-to-back games — the Canadiens are home to Toronto Saturday (7 p.m., CBC, RDS, TSN Radio 690) — Peter Budaj will start in goal against the Capitals. Budaj made 25 saves in Washington last Friday as the Canadiens beat the Capitals 3-2.
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