The Kovalev redemption
|Alex Kovalev leads the Canadiens with 79 points this season.|
After posting an un-Kovalev-like 47 points in 2006-07 – his lowest output in a decade – he received much of the blame for the Canadiens’ failure to reach the playoffs last season. Disappointed with his own performance, a heavy-hearted Kovalev did some serious soul-searching last summer, which has ultimately benefited both the winger and his teammates, according to head coach Guy Carbonneau.
“I think he had an okay season last year, but it certainly wasn’t up to Alex’s standards or the team’s standards,” admitted Carbonneau. “I think not being invited to play at the World Championships for Russia made him reflect.”
Kovalev v2.0 wasted no time proving he was back in business, scoring 10 goals in 19 games after needing 39 games to reach the same mark a year earlier.
“Talking to Alex, he made the most of his long summer and watched old footage of himself when he was younger to see what he used to do and to rediscover how much he loved playing the game,” explained Carbonneau. “I think it was really important to him to have a strong start to the season to prove all the work he put in had paid off.”
The 35-year-old’s strong start was only a sign of things to come. With Tomas Plekanec and Andrei Kostitsyn by his side, Kovalev has already put up the most productive season by a Canadiens player in over a decade. Kovy’s 33 goals leave him one shy of Mark Recchi’s 34-goal campaign in 1996-97, while his 79 points are just two behind Vincent Damphousse, who put up 81 points that same year.
Kovalev’s resurgence has gone beyond the scoresheet. Just as eager to ratchet up his defensive game, he is now also on the Habs' No. 1 penalty-killing unit and is the team’s plus-minus leader with a plus-17 rating.
“He’s re-evaluated where he should position himself out there and what he needs to do to be successful,” said Carbonneau. “I wouldn’t go so far as to say that his attitude is different or better this year, but he came in determined to prove to everyone that he was better than that.”
Mission accomplished, and the playoffs aren’t even here yet.
Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.com