Say it ain’t so, Alex. Say it ain’t so.
We need to hear it from your lips, and we need you to mean it. We need to hear you tell us that your recent struggles have nothing to do with the fact that you had to trade in the Captain’s “C” you were wearing while Saku Koivu was on the mend, for your familiar “A”, now that Koivu is back in the lineup.
We need to hear you tell us that your struggles of late have nothing to do with the fact that you are now “only” an alternate captain on this hockey team. We need to hear you tell us the fact that you played your best hockey of the season so far, while Koivu was hurt and you were wearing the ‘C”, was just a coincidence; that your contribution of 7 goals and 4 assists in the 17 games that Koivu was out of action nothing to do with the fact that you were wearing the “C” at the time.
Say it ain’t so, Alex. Otherwise, I have a real big problem with you. But more importantly, head coach Guy Carbonneau has a real big problem with you.
After last night’s 3-1 loss to the Boston Bruins, the statistic that everyone wanted to talk about centered around the number 3. And, no, I’m not talking about Ryan O’Byrne. I’m talking about the number of shifts Kovalev played in the third period. Three shifts. The Canadiens are trailing 2-1 in the third period of a very tight hockey game, and their most talented player is cooling his jets on the bench, for all except three lousy shifts and a grand total of 1:47 of ice time. Why? Because Guy Carbonneau didn’t like what he saw from his sometimes captain.
When Alex Kovalev was in the throws of his 19-game goal-scoring slump, I was never among those who felt that Kovalev deserved to sit out as a healthy scratch. I never felt that he was going to work things through by watching games from the press box. He needed to play. He did play. He played plenty. And he finally snapped out of it: in his second game wearing the Captain’s “C”, after Koivu went down with an ankle injury Dec. 11 vs. Tampa Bay. The night was Dec. 16 in Carolina, and Kovalev snaps out of his 19-game funk by scoring against the ‘Caines. Two nights later, he puts the puck in the net against the Flyers. Two nights after the game against Philly, Kovalev picks up a goal and an assist against the Buffalo Sabres. And there you have it: Kovalev is off and running, while wearing the “C” on his jersey.
Coincidence, right Alex? Your current troubles can’t have anything to do with the fact that you’re no longer wearing the “C”. Can it?!?!?!
“I hope that’s not the truth or we’re in trouble because I’m not taking the C off Saku – that’s the bottom line,” said Carbonneau, following last night’s loss. “If anyone needs a letter to perform on the ice, I have trouble with that. That’s not professional at all.”
But you’re a professional, right Alex? We saw that professionalism all of last season, when you took this team by the scruff of its neck and led it to first place in the Eastern Conference of the N.H.L. At a time when Saku Koivu played a healthy 77 games, wearing the Captain’s “C”. When you poured in 84 points on a line with Tomas Plekanec and Andrei Kostitsyn while wearing the “A” on your jersey. Habs fans need to remember that, don’t they, Alex.
But, there he was last night at the Bell Centre. On the bench. For most of the third period. In a game against the Boston Bruins. With the Habs needing every ounce of firepower they could muster, their most talented player was watching this one from the bench.
You know what? It was the right move by Carbonneau. Right time, right place, right player. That’s where Kovalev deserved to be.
Does Alex Kovalev deserve to be in the press box when the Pittsburgh Penguins take to the ice at the Bell Centre tomorrow night? It will be up to The Coach to decide whether or not Kovalev trades in the “bleu, blanc, rouge” of a Montreal Canadiens uniform for a three-piece suit. Because, in the end, it needs to be all about the pride of wearing the most famous sporting colours in the world, and the effort that needs to go along with it. And not about the letter on your jersey.