Andrei Markov’s wonky knee is still pretty wonky

This summer, the Montreal Canadiens signed Andrei Markov to a three-year, $17.25 million extension even in spite of missing most of last season after injuring his ACL against Carolina last November. While Markov is a leader on the ice for the Habs and a key offensive player when healthy, any player coming back after missing nearly a year of action is going to run into some problems being rusty. In Markov’s case, things are a little bit worse.

Team 990 radio host Tony Marinaro tweeted that Markov’s comeback was slowed down three weeks ago due to having water on his knee. Markov had the knee drained, but with training camp starting this week Markov getting him on the ice first thing in camp is in doubt. After all, having him be totally healthy is more important than getting him on the ice with only regard to the schedule.

As Arpon Basu of CTV Montreal finds out from Canadiens GM Pierre Gauthier, they’re making absolutely sure that Markov is ready to go before pushing him on the ice.

“It’s always a risk when you sign older players, first, and it’s a bigger risk when you sign older players who have had injuries,” Gauthier said. “But you evaluate that as a calculated risk, and you also evaluate what your options are. In the case of Mr. Markov, he’s such a professional, such a hard working person. One of the things that was interesting about his knee is he had absolutely no collateral damage. The ACL was torn a second time, but in a lot of cases with knee injuries there’s something else that’s gone wrong, like an MCL or some cartilage. In his case it was strictly one band that was ruptured. So we feel pretty good about his prognosis.”

The last two years Markov has played a total of 52 games, 60 if you count the playoffs as he played in eight playoff games in 2009-2010. Signing him to a three-year deal for that much money considering how his knees have been treated the last two seasons was risky, but a situation the Canadiens felt compelled to stick by Markov through. There’s no doubt the Habs are a better team with Markov on the ice, but they’ve managed to be a playoff team without his services for the most part anyhow.

While Markov’s knee is still a problem, they can’t feel compelled to hurry him back to the ice. The Habs are better off filling his spot for the time being and allowing P.K. Subban to be their offensive spark plug and power play leader on the blue line until Markov is 100% ready to go. If/when Markov returns, Montreal’s defense becomes that much deeper and solid. They’ll just have to hope that Markov doesn’t suffer anymore setbacks and can help lead the Habs back into the playoffs on a full-time basis rather than soldiering on without him.

The Leafs’ remaining schedule is no cakewalk

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The Toronto Maple Leafs took care of business last night, sending the floundering Florida Panthers to a 3-2 defeat at Air Canada Centre.

Now comes the hard part for the young Leafs. They have seven games left to book their first playoff appearance since 2013, and their schedule is no cakewalk.

The Leafs’ next three games are all on the road, in Nashville Thursday, Detroit Saturday, and Buffalo Monday. After that, it’s a four-game home stand to close out the schedule, all against formidable opponents: Washington, Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, and Columbus.

With a four-point playoff cushion, the Leafs can afford to lose a few games down the stretch. But head coach Mike Babcock doesn’t want his players looking too far ahead.

“I really believe with our group if we just focus on the day we’re playing and play right, we have a real good chance to win,” Babcock said. “That’s what we talk about and that’s kind of our mantra every day is just play right, play fast and we have an opportunity to be successful. We don’t get all caught up in the race. We know the standings, it’s in the paper every day, so we know that.”

The Leafs today sent goalie Garret Sparks back to the AHL. That can only mean good news for starter Frederik Andersen, who could play Thursday after missing last night’s victory with an upper-body injury.

Backup Curtis McElhinney got the nod against the Panthers, calling it the biggest game of his career. The 33-year-old then went out and made 25 saves to earn the win.

“It was great,” said McElhinney. “Getting a couple of goals in the first period there helped out a little bit and let me settle into it. It was a nice win.”

Parise ‘pretty black and blue’ after Wilson high stick, but injury not serious

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Zach Parise looked in bad shape after taking a Tom Wilson high stick to the face in Minnesota’s loss to Washington on Tuesday.

Thankfully for the Wild, Parise’s early diagnosis is a good one.

“He can see and is fine as far as that goes,” head coach Bruce Boudreau said on Wednesday, per the club’s Twitter account. “He’s sore in the upper body. I don’t think he’ll be out long.”

Boudreau went on to add that Parise was “pretty black and blue” and unlikely to play tomorrow, when Minnesota hosts Ottawa. That said, the club expects the 32-year-old to return next week.

It goes without saying that losing Parise is huge. The alternate captain has 17 goals and 37 points through 64 games this year, and is averaging 17:33 TOI per night. And for a Wild team that’s mired in a horrific slump — just three wins in its last 15 games — being down the services of such a vital contributor is costly.

Related: Stewart fought Wilson in response to the high stick

Stamkos ‘getting really close’ to return

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It probably won’t happen Thursday against the Red Wings, but Steven Stamkos is getting close to making his return for the Tampa Bay Lightning.

“I think we can start putting him in the day-to-day category right now,” said Bolts coach Jon Cooper, per team beat writer Bryan Burns. “I don’t see him playing against Detroit. After that, I’d say it’s getting really close.”

Stamkos, who hasn’t played since November due to a knee injury, practiced today with his teammates. He took line rushes and even worked with the second-unit power play.

“Today was probably the best day yet,” the captain said. “Doing better than last time we talked and really feeling better each day now.”

Tampa Bay’s next game after Thursday’s is Saturday against Montreal.

The Lightning are three points back of Boston for the second wild-card spot in the East, but they do hold a game in hand on the Bruins.

A challenging offseason awaits Dean Lombardi

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For the 23rd time this season — the most in the NHL — the Los Angeles Kings lost a game in regulation after they outshot an opponent.

It happened last night in Edmonton, where the Kings outshot the Oilers, 35-29, but lost on the scoreboard, 2-1.

Afterwards, captain Anze Kopitar could only express his frustration.

“It seems like we’re beating the dead horse every night,” Kopitar said, per LA Kings Insider. “We outshoot teams, we out-chance teams yet we’re on the other side of the winning part, so bottom line it’s just not good enough. Whether that’s offensively or defensively, we’ve got to be better in both areas.”

It’s mostly offensively. For whatever reason, the Kings have the second-worst shooting percentage (7.6) in the NHL, with only Colorado’s (7.2) being lower.

Perhaps the Kings aren’t getting enough quality shots. Perhaps they don’t have enough quality shooters.

Probably a bit of both.

But it’s something that GM Dean Lombardi will need to address this offseason — assuming he can.

Roster-wise, the big problem for Lombardi is that the Kings have a pair of veteran wingers, Dustin Brown and Marian Gaborik, whose contracts look a lot like anchors.

Brown, 32, and Gaborik, 35, have combined for just 21 goals this season. Meanwhile, their combined cap hit is north of $10 million, and there’s plenty of term left on each deal.

Not helping? Both Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson are pending RFAs, and they’re in line for raises.

Oh, and there’s not much in the way of top prospects, either. In the past four drafts, only once have the Kings made a first-round pick. (Adrian Kempe went 29th overall in 2014.)

Eleven points back of the second wild-card spot in the West, the Kings are all but mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. They’re in Calgary tonight to take on the Flames.

Related: Kings give another kid a look, recall AHL All-Star Brodzinski