B's can expect a tougher Habs defense

BOSTON -- The Bruins will take on a much-improved Montreal Canadiens squad Wednesday night at the Bell Centre in a battle for first place in the Northeast Division. One of the reasons for the Habs’ quick turn-around in the standings after finishing last in the Eastern Conference last season has been the successful return of veteran defenseman Andrei Markov, who is tied for the team lead in points with eight in eight games.

The highly skilled Markov has always been one of the most underrated defensemen in the NHL. Due to two knee surgeries that allowed him to play only 65 games in the last three seasons, those around the league may have forgotten just how much of a factor he can be. But don’t count Bruins coach Claude Julien -- who coached Markov in Montreal for two-plus seasons -- in that bunch.

“He makes a big difference. I had Andrei for a few years and he’s been snake-bitten by those injuries,” Julien said of the Russian rear guard. “He is a real quality defenseman. He sees the ice well; he really moves the puck well and he’s got an unbelievable shot. He just controls everything back there and as much as they liked P.K. Subban, there’s a guy with much more experience than P.K. in controlling the puck and moving it around. I know for a fact that as long as he’s healthy, they’re a really good team back there.”

With Markov back as the leader of the Habs’ blue line, Subban and other defensemen like Raphael Diaz -- who also has eight points -- have been able to fall back into their comfort zones and follow Markov’s lead. The result is a more well-balanced defense corps for the Canadiens.

“When you look at their D, they’ve got some guys that can move the puck and some really experienced guys back there,” Julien pointed out. “Francis Bouillon’s come back and he’s been around the league for a long time and he’s a small but sturdy defenseman. They’ve also got some good hitters, [Alexei] Emelin and those kind of guys. They’re well-balanced back there.”