The Canadiens practiced Monday morning at their Brossard Training Complex before catching a plane for Calgary and their first game of their three game western swing.

The big news – Andrei Markov was cleared for physical contact and participated in full practice paired with Alexei Emelin.   No projected date for his return, but considering Markov’s dedication to fitness I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s in the lineup in one of the games of the current four game eight day road trip.  It’s been 478 days since Markov played his last game.

Mathieu Darche and Travis Moen did not make the trip.  Moen has missed 16 of the last 18 games and Darche has been out five.   The Canadiens are listing their injuries as ‘upper body’.  For lack of further information, one could be forgiven for thinking – concussion;  especially when the initial diagnosis on Darche was “dizziness”.  If so, it’s unreported and I’m not sure that’s a good thing.

And the Canadiens called up centre Andreas Engqvist again Monday, his fourth recall of the season and the second in four days.  Engqvist played for the Canadiens against Toronto on Saturday, and in Hamilton in their 1-0 win over Grand Rapids Sunday.

……The game between the Canadiens and Oilers on Thursday is a four-pointer for all of the wrong reasons.  It is one of those odd situations where the winner could wind up the loser.  Both the Oilers and Canadiens are currently in the draft ‘lottery’.Edmonton is two points behind the Canadiens with two games in hand.  On the line could be the opportunity to draft the best of three or four highly regarded forwards, something the Canadiens desperately need.

The NHL Bottom Feeders

25th – Minnesota       66 pts.   17 Games Remaining

26th – NY Islanders   65          16

27th – Carolina          62          17

28th – Canadiens      60 pts.   16 remaining

29th – Edmonton       56          18

30th – Columbus       47          17

………Teams are very conscious of what they call “distractions”.  The Canadiens traded Mike Ribeiro, Jose Theodore, Mikhail Grabovsky, Sergei Kostitsyn and maybe Mike Cammalleri and also fired Georges Laraque because, in the dressing room they allowed personal opinions and issues to get in the way  of team goals.  Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas is another example of what can happen when someone steps away from the team and goes his own way.   Thomas decided to get into U.S. politics by refusing to attend the January 23rd visit to the White House with his teammates.  At the time the Bruins were riding high.  Since, their record is 15-14-2 and, if they don’t get their act together, they’re in danger of losing the lead in the Northeast division to Ottawa, who trail them by three points.  Blame the Thomas distraction?  Some would think so.

……Injury piled upon injury.  Over the last week, the Canadiens injury list blossomed again to seven with both Scott Gomez and Aaron Palushaj suffering eye injuries.  Injuries have been a team-killer.  323 man games and counting.  27 times the Canadiens have put players on the list at various times.  It’s reduced the Canadiens to an easily controlled one-line hockey club.  Without Gomez, Gionta, Darche and Moen, Tomas Plekanec is playing with grinder Ryan White and the inexperienced Blake Geoffrion.  Lars Eller is left with the inconsistent Rene Bourque and rookie Louis Leblanc.

……I guess it’s the contrarian in me but, I am one of a very small minority that thinks Pierre Gauthier is going to get a chance next season to straighten out the mess for which he is partly responsible this season.  I am not of the same opinion about Randy Cunneyworth’s future with the team, and it has nothing to do with his linguistic ability.  Jacques Martin had the Canadiens a game over .500 when Gauthier decided his team should be doing better and dismissed him after the season’s 32nd game.   Cunneyworth in his 34 games is seven games under at 12-18-3.