There it is. Right there.
Alex Kovalev’s name on the scoresheet. It’s right there on the Game Summary for last night’s match at the Bell Centre between the Montreal Canadiens and the New Jersey Devils.
Unfortunately for Kovalev and the Canadiens, number 27’s name doesn’t show up on the scoring summary. It shows up in the penalty summary: two minutes for tripping at 19:32 of the third period.
This game was tied at one when Kovalev was sent to the sin bin. Matt D’Agostini, with his parents in the stands after making the trip from Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, opened the scoring for the Habs at 15:35 of the first period, when he banged the puck past Scott Clemmensen, who couldn’t hold on to the hot potato in his crease. The goal was D’Agostini’s third since being recalled from the Hamilton Bulldogs.
Believe me, folks, this kid isn’t going anywhere, soon. He has combined with Saku Koivu and Andrei Kostitsyn to form Montreal’s most effective trio since joining the team. Finally, the Canadiens have a number one line that is clicking on all cylinders. They also have a very effective fourth line, in Maxim Lapierre, Steve Begin and Georges Laraque. It’s lines two and three that are proving to be the problem for head coach Guy Carbonneau; most notably, the Kovalev line.
More on that in a moment.
The Devils tied this one at 4:05 of the second period when Jamie Langenbrunner managed to squeeze one between the pads of Carey Price: a blast from the edge of the face off circle that found its way past the Montreal netminder.
There was no scoring in the third period, which would suggest that this one was a pretty evenly-played hockey game heading into overtime. Right?
The Canadiens again opened with a flourish, delivering more of the crisp play we saw from them in the win against the New York Rangers two nights earlier. In the second period, the Canadiens simply stopped skating, and carried that over into the third period. The shots on goal are indicative of how this game transpired: 13-7 Montreal in the first; 11-9 NJ in the second; and 11-4 NJ in the third. Truth be told, the Canadiens can thank Price for their single point.
Still, the Habs had a chance to win this one. That is, until Alex Kovalev took that tripping penalty with :28 remaining in regulation play. Thirty-one seconds into O.T., the splendid Zach Parise put this one out of reach with his 15th of the season.
Game, set and match.
Kovalev? Let’s look past the lazy penalty that resulted in the Canadiens starting, and finishing, this overtime session short-handed. What has to be a bigger concern to The Coach is the fact that Kovalev has now gone 16 games without a goal. Chances? He had his opportunities last night with three shots on goal. And yes, Scott Clemmensen was good. He’s no Martin Brodeur, but on this night, he didn’t have to be.
Kovalev isn’t the only one struggling on his line. Chris Higgins has done very little since netting a hat trick against Ottawa some three weeks ago. Robert Lang, who rounds out that threesome, has been quietly effective, as he has been all season long. But the sparks haven’t exactly been flying between Lang and Kovalev, two former Pittsburgh Penguins who are being given a chance to play together again.
It says here that your best players have to be your best players. And both Kovalev and Higgins have been far from it. Fairly, or unfairly, Kovalev has been the lightening rod for what has been ailing this team offensively this season. Even when Kovalev was getting some points through the first 10 games of the season, we weren’t seeing the Alex Kovalev who lit up this team and this town for 82 games last season.
As for Higgins, he has been given a very long leash by fans in this city. Truth be told, Chris Higgins might never become the first-line player the Canadiens expect him to become. When all is said and done, Chris Higgins might end up being a very good third-line player.
Chris Higgins is a terrific young man, worthy of the “A” he wears on his jersey, and skates miles out there.
Unfortunately for Higgins, and the Canadiens, miles to nowhere, on too many nights.