Tag Archive | Alex Kovalev

KOVALEV RETURNS TO MONTREAL


Alex Kovalev is coming back to Montreal to play.

Golf.

Kovalev is scheduled to arrive from Russia tonight as he gets set to tee it up in his annual Kovalev for Kids Golf Tournament, which is being held tomorrow at Golf Saint Rafael in Ile Bizard. Among those on hand for the event, Kovalev’s former Habs’ teammate, Tomas Plekanec.

Kovalev in town brings back memories of his days as a Hab. There were good times, and there were frustrating times. Remember when he brought the house down with his inspirational performance when the All-Star Game was held at the Bell Centre as part of the Canadiens’ 100th anniversary celebration?

Good times.

There was the 2007-2008 season, when he produced 84 points while playing on a line with Plekanec and Andrei Kosktitsyn. More good times. Then there was Bob Gainey’s decision to tell Kovalev to take some time off in 2009, at a time when the enigmatic forward was struggling.

Frustrating times. Too many of them, for too many Habs’ fans.

Whether you loved Alex Kovalev in a Canadiens’ uniform, or hated him, life was never dull when number 27 laced ‘em up at the Bell Centre.

Let me be the first to admit that when Kovalev became an unrestricted free agent in July following two mediocre seasons in Ottawa and Pittsburgh, the thought crossed my mind that it might be fun to see Kovalev back in a Montreal uniform for one more kick at the can. To see if Jacques Martin could somehow coax one more 30-goal season out of that stick of his. To see Alex Kovalev get his wish and ride off into the sunset and retire as a member of the Montreal Canadiens.

Call me sentimental, what can I tell you.

Instead, Kovalev returns to Montreal for a whirlwind 24 hours, or so, before he heads back to Russia after signing a two-year deal to play with Atlant Mytischi of the Kontinental Hockey League.

Any way you slice it, Alex Kovalev will be missed.

HABS STOP THE BLEEDING


Now, let’s get one thing straight.

One victory over the Atlanta Thrashers does not a season make.  But when it comes to the Montreal Canadiens, it’s a win that just might turn this season around.

Might.

If nothing else, Montreal’s 6-3 victory over the team with the third-worst record in the Eastern Conference of the NHL, snapped a five-game losing streak.  And it gave this desperate Canadiens’ hockey team a shred of hope to cling to as they look to shore up their fading playoff hopes.

And let’s face it:  it was a victory.  A “W”.  Two points.  Which is more than you can say for this team on most nights;  certainly since mid-January.

Last night, the Habs’ best players were their best players, led by the newly-minted line of Alex Kovalev, Saku Koivu and Alex Tanguay, who combined for 11 points.  Tanguay led the way with two goals and three assists, with Kovalev adding a pair of goals and Koivu chipping in with a solo marker.

The fact that the Habs were almost scoring at will against Kari Lehtonen, who gave up a goal on every second shot (or just about:  Habs connecting on six goals on 15 shots), certainly helped their cause. But when you’re a Canadiens’ team that has been desperate for a win, you’ll take all the help you can get.

If Alex Tanguay is indeed back, after sitting out more than two months of action with a shoulder injury,  it’s good news indeed for the Habs.  In eight games since his return, Tanguay now has four goals and eight assists;  gaudy numbers that are obviously bolstered by his five-point performance against the Thrashers.

However, last night, Alex Tanguay looked like the Alex Tanguay who lit it up while playing with Saku Koivu at the start of the season; when the points were piling up for no. 13 over the first month of action.

For the Canadiens, that’s good news, indeed.

As for Koivu, the Captain has struggled in recent weeks.  But it was while he was playing with Tanguay, that Koivu was this team’s best forward. In fact, until he went down with an ankle injury in early Dec., Koivu was this team’s most consistent performer up front.

For the Canadiens, his performance last night, is good news, indeed.

And then there’s Alex Kovalev, who came within a goalpost of netting the hat trick last night.  It hasn’t worked with Andrei Kostitsyn and Tomas Plekanec all season long, for whatever reason.  But last night, it certainly worked with Tanguay and Koivu.  THAT is the Alex Kovalev the Canadiens are going to need over the final nine games of the regular season, if they are going to advance to post-season play.  Kovalev’s performance last night is the reason why the Canadiens desperately need no. 27 firing on all cylinders.

Last night’s victory (yes, yes, I know, I know: against the 13th-place Thrashers) came because Montreal’s best players were their best players.  As much as you have to admire the play of linemates Tom Kostopoulos, Max Lapierre and Guillaume Latendresse of late, they are not the players who are going to lead this team to the promised land.  In fact, those three were fairly quiet last night.  Against the Thrashers, it was the unit of Glen Metropolit, Chris Higgins and Mathieu Dandenault who helped pick up the slack, with Metropolit contributing with a goal.

Chris Higgins on the fourth line? Works for me. He still managed to see almost 16 minutes of ice time.

Which brings us to the line of Andrei Kostitsyn, Sergei Kostitsyn and Tomas Plekanec.  One shot on goal for Andrei.  One shot on goal for Sergei.  (Three for Plek).  That’s not going to cut it.  Then again, it was only Sergei’s first game back since being recalled from the Hamilton Bulldogs.  If it takes these three guys a little while to get their sea legs, so be it.  They had brief flashes of brilliance lasts night, but they were too brief.  They’ll get another chance Thursday when the Tampa Bay Lightning are in town.

Then again, this entire team will get another chance to do something they haven’t done in three weeks, when the Tampa Bay Lightning come to town.

Win two in a row.

HABS THROUGH CARBO’S EYES


Guy Carbonneau says he never saw it coming.

Just about everyone else, however, did.

Carbonneau spoke to the media yesterday for the first time since being fired Mar. 9, in the hours after a Canadiens’ 3-1 over the Dallas Stars in Dallas.  Despite Montreal’s struggles this season, Carbonneau told a packed house at the Bell Centre yesterday that he felt the Canadiens were headed in the right direction.

He may have been the only one.

How surprised was Carbonneau when he was given the pink slip by GM Bob Gainey in a curt, 10-minute conversation that took place upon the team’s arrival from Dallas that fateful day?  On a scale of 1-10?

“A 12,” deadpanned the former coach.

Let me say right now that I like Guy Carbonneau as a person and I respect his abilities as a coach.  He was a finalist for the Jack Adams trophy as coach of the year last season, for a reason.  He was given a contract extension by Bob Gainey going into the 2008-2009 campaign, for a reason.  Gainey called the hiring of Carbonneau the best move he’s made as Habs’ GM, for a reason.

But those reasons began to wear very thin as the team rolled through the all-star break.  And for Carbonneau to suggest that this team was headed in the right direction at the time of his dismissal, just doesn’t ring true to me.

Yes, the timing of Carbonneau’s firing could be considered a bit odd, coming, as it did, following a victory.  However, how can anyone truly believe that this team was “on it’s way”, after one crummy win over the Dallas Stars?  You can’t blame Carbonneau for clutching at straws yesterday and insisting that he had the horses to turn this season around. Human nature, I suppose.

But it just doesn’t ring true.

All you need to do is look at this club’s record right around the time of the all-star break.  Since Jan. 20, the Canadiens have suffered through a pair of four-game losing streaks.  Yes, they did manage to win four straight during that post all-star stretch, at the end of February.  But upon closer inspection, those four victories were made possible by the unbelievable play of goaltender Jaroslav Halak.  Period.  The performance of the players in front of Halak during that winning streak? 

Mediocre, with gusts of brutal.

In short, there was absolutely nothing to suggest that the Canadiens were going in the right direction after they beat the Dallas Stars on the night of Mar. 8.

That’s why Bob Gainey fired Guy Carbonneau.  In an effort to save the season.

And what will it take to save this season?  Alek Kovalev figures he has a pretty good idea.  In the minutes following Montreal’s 4-3 shootout loss to the New York Rangers Tuesday night, Kovalev, who returned to action with a goal in regulation and another in the shootout after a couple of days with the flu, said the Canadiens would need to win eight or nine of their remaining 12 games to remain in the playoff hunt.

That would mean the Canadiens will need to play in the neighbourhood of .700 hockey between now and the end of the regular season.  What are the odds of that happening, given the way this team is playing?

Let’s face it.  Even though the Canadiens are still in the hunt for a playoff spot, barely, tied for seventh place in the East with the Carolina Hurricanes, the Habs have been nothing better than a .500 hockey team all year long.  Yes, they have a record of 36-25-9 heading into tonight’s game in Ottawa against the Senators.  But let’s just look at wins vs. losses.  Thirty-six wins, vs. 34 losses.  That’s barely better than .500 hockey.

And, as Bob Gainey said just the other day, .500 hockey isn’t going to cut it.

So what do the Canadiens do after picking up three of a possible six points in the first three games with Gainey back behind the bench?  They leave a very important point on the table, and allow the Rangers to walk out of the Bell Centre with a very valuable two points, in a 4-3 shootout loss. 

Make it four of a possible eight points with Gainey behind the bench. 

More .500 hockey.

Which isn’t going to cut it, regardless of who is behind the bench.

HABS DON’T HAVE TO GO FAR FOR LATEST ACQUISITION


Some 24 hours after dispatching the popular Steve Begin to Dallas, Canadiens GM Bob Gainey found that depth centreman he was looking for.

And he didn’t have to go far, to get him.

After the Habs arrived in Philadephia for last night’s gme against the Flyers,  they announced the acquisition of Glen Metropolit off waivers from the Flyers. Which meant that all Metropolit had to do, was walk across the floor of the Wachovia Center to join his new teammates in the visitors locker room. 

Now, Glen Metropolit will never be confused for, say, Vincent Lecavalier.  Not when it comes to stature OR talent.  At 5-10, 185 pounds, the Toronto native isn’t exactly a “big body” up front.  And 12 goals is the best she’s been able to do in a single season at the NHL level.  But Gainey clearly saw something in the 34-year old when the veteran became available, making Montreal his 7th NHL stop.  Last year, at this time, you may remember Metropolit in a Boston Bruins uniform, and his splendid performance against the Canadiens in the playoffs. 

Then he moved on to Philadelphia.  And just 55 games in his career as a Flyer, Metropolit became expendable as the Flyers worked toward freeing up some cap space for the return of Daniel Briere to the Philadelphia lineup. 

And that is how Metropolit, who’s resume includes stints with the Long Island Jawz, Anaheim Bullfrogs, and the New Jersey Rockin’ Rollers of Roller Hockey fame,  became a member of the Montreal Canadiens.  Just hours before the Habs were set to take on his former team.

Fast forward to the start of last night’s game, and head coach Guy Carbonneau wasted little time in going to his latest acquisition. Metropolit opened the game on a (short-lived) line with Alex Kovaelv and Gregory Stewart. And the Flyers responded with Joffrey Lupul beating Jaroslav Halak  just 28 seconds in, to make it 1-0 Philly.

Mike Richards then made it 2-0 some eight minutes later, and the Flyers were off and running, right?

Wrong.

After starting the game like gangbusters, Philly goalie Antero Nittymaki  lost his game, while the Canadiens found theirs.  It was Tomas Plekanec with his 17th of the season on the power play at 16:25 to make it 2-1 Philly; Plekanec extending his goal-scoring streak to five games since his recent suspension.  Tom Kostopoulus tied the game just 13 seconds later with a goal from an impossible angle, before the rejuvenated Alex Kovalev (one goal and two assists on the night) put the Habs ahead with his 15th, late in the frame.

Simon Gagne tied it up midway through the second, a period which saw the Flyers outshoot the Habs 18-5; and a period which also saw the Canadiens weather a couple of 5 on 3 Philadelphia power plays.  The two teams eventually went to overtime.  And with Scottie Upshall in the box for running the crease,  Mathieu Schneider cranked one up from the point, past Nittymaki, to propel the Canadiens to their third straight win:  for the first time since early in the New Year.

As for the newest Hab, he finished with 11:47 of ice time, winning 60 per cent of his faceoffs in the process. 

Now, Metropolit, who looks and sounds like Brian Smolinki (it’s eerie, I tell ya), might not be the answer to Habs fans’ prayers as Wednesday’s NHL trade deadline looms ever larger.  But, true to his word, Gainey has gone out and filled what he felt was a need at centre by plucking the veteran off waiver wires.  That’s not to say that  Gainey has put the phone down, for good, when it comes to conversations with other GM’s around the league over the next three days.

But I’m here to tell you that I believe Bob Gainey has put his phone down, for good, when it comes to conversations with other GM’s around the league, over the next three days.

KOVALEV SHINES IN SPOTLIGHT


Did you expect anything less from Alex Kovalev?

With the spotlight on number 27,  for all the wrong reasons, Kovalev returned to action yesterday, scored a goal and added two assists, to help power the Canadiens to a 5-3 win over a stubborn Ottawa Senators hockey club.

The chant “Kovy, Kovy, Kovy” rang through the Bell Centre rafters, the moment that Kovalev was introduced to the crowd by way of pre-game player introductions on the jumbo screen.  And it didn’t take Kovalev long to pay the fans back for their ongoing support, as he set up Tomas Plekanec for the game’s first goal just 2:23 into the opening period; the first of three power play goals for the Habs.

One hundred and ninety-five seconds  later, Kovalev made it 2-0 when he picked up a Chris Phillips turnover and beat Brian Elliott stick-side.

Kovalev also assisted on a goal by Patrice Brisebois; a goal that gave the Canadiens a commanding 4-0 lead.

They needed it.

The Sens stormed back in the second period with a pair of goals before Mathieu Dandenaultscored a huge goal with 18.1 seconds remaining in the second to put Montreal ahead 5-2.  Despite giving up the late second-period goal (by that time, Alex Auld was on in relief of Elliott), the Sens continued to press, as the Canadiens ran into some serious penalty trouble.   However, Jaroslav Halakwas able to keep the Sens at bay, kicking out 44 shots; with the Canadiens outshot 22-4 in the third period.

Finally, a win by this Canadienshockey team.  One they could be proud of.  They’ll have an opportunity to make it two straight wins, for the first time in well over a month, when they play host to Mats Sundin and the Vancouver Canucks Tuesday night.

And won’t THAT be fun.

Oh yes. Alex Kovalev.  The man loves the spotlight, doesn’t he?  Remember the all-star game?  He didn’t disappoint that night.  And he didn’t disappoint last night, coming away as the game’s first star.  As impressive as his offensive contributions were, what really raised my eyebrows was the way he lunged for a puck in the first period, timed the move perfectly, to clear the zone at a time when the Canadiens were killing a penalty.

While, on most nights, it’s all about artistic merit when it comes to Kovalev, that particular move was all about effort.  And for the better part of his 19:44 of ice time, it was all about effort for the rejuvenated Kovalev, who joked with his team mates that his return to action after an unscheduled two-day vacation felt like he had just been traded to this team.

A rather interesting choice of words, what with the Mar. 4 N.H.L. trade deadline just 10 days away.

Will Kovalev still be a Hab when he wakes up on Thurs., Mar. 5th?  More of what we saw of Alex Kovalev last night,  in the days and weeks to come, will certainly make it more difficult for G.M. Bob Gainey to consider trading his enigmatic all-star.  I’ve always maintained, and I still maintain, that Kovalev isn’t going anywhere. Not now, at least.  But the last time I checked, my business card did not include the title: General Manager of the Montreal Canadiens.

The REAL question that begs to be asked is:  WHICH Alex Kovalev will show up to the rink Tuesday night against the Canucks. And Thursday when the Habs are in Philadelphia.  And the following night, when the Sharks are in town.

Etc. Etc.

The Alex Kovalev who played like an all star last night?  Or the Alex Kovalev who played himself off this team just a few short days ago.

The only person who can answer that question is number 27 himself.

HABS’ CENTENNIAL SEASON HANGS IN BALANCE


Some celebration.

The Montreal Canadiens’ Centennial Season is turning into a non-stop nightmare, both on and off the ice.

The action on the ice took a back seat, earlier this week, as a result of the unusual move by General Manager Bob Gainey to leave Alex Kovalev behind before the Canadiens moved on to Washington and Pittsburgh, to close out this disastrous six-game road trip.

Then, today, news broke  in the Montreal newspaper La Presse that Andrei and Sergei Kostitsyn had social ties with a man who has just been arrested on criminal charges.  Roman Hamerlik was another member of the Habs identified by La Presse as someone who hung around this character.

It must be noted that there are no charges against the three Habs’, according to the crown prosecutor, and there is no information linking them to the operation cracking down on alleged drug traffickers.

Still, Gainey felt the need to address this swirling controversy at the club’s practice facility at Brossard, while the Canadiens’ took to the ice in preparation for their next game, tomorrow afternoon at the Bell Centre, against the Ottawa Senators.

Gainey told reporters he’s concerned by the published report in La Presse that three of his players have been hanging out with an alleged underworld figure.

And then there’s the concern on the ice.

The Habs, so anxious to hit the road for this six-game road trip, returned home with their tails between their legs, after accumulating a grand total of three of a possible 12 points.  One point came in a 4-3 overtime loss to the Washington Capitals Wednesday night, which was followed by a 5-4 loss to the Penguins on Thursday night, to close out this road trip.

Despite the suggestions by some that Alex Kovalev had played his last game with the ‘Bleu, Blanc, Rouge,” number 27 was back on the ice at practice today. And head coach Guy Carbonneau confirmed that Kovalev will be back on the ice tomorrow against the Ottawa Senators, along with his familiar line mates: Andrei Kostitsyn and Tomas Plekanec.

Mind you, Plekanec and Kostitsyn did very well, thank you very much, with Max Pacioretty as a member of that three-some, while Kovalev cooled his jets back in Montreal.  In fact, the three were, by far and away,  the Habs’ most effective forward unit in the loss to the Penguins.

But Guy Carbonneau  has decided to give Kovalev his greatest chance at success by returning him to the scene of his biggest triumphs as a member of this team: playing with Plekanec and Kostitsyn.  In effect, he’s told Kovalev: “You think you are ready to help this club when it needs you the most?  I’m going to give you the resources to help you get it done. Now,  show me what you’ve got.”

And just exactly what does Alex Kovalev have left?  With the Mar. 4 N.H.L. trade deadline looming, are these Kovalev’s final days as a member of the Montreal Canadiens.  Is he destined to exit this city as a mere footnote? 

Or will Alex Kovalev seize the opportunity that has been afforded him by Canadiens’ management and grab this team by the scruff of its neck, and pull it out of this quagmire of controversy and shame, and lead it to the promised playoff land?

Is it even fair to ask this question of one man at a time when the Canadiens continue to lose hockey games as a team? 

Right now, at this point in time in Canadiens’ history, in this, the 100th anniversary of perhaps the most storied franchise in all of sports, I believe the answer to that question is a resounding:

Yes.

IS THIS THE END OF THE LINE FOR KOVALEV?


Has Alex Kovalev played his final game as a member of the Montreal Canadiens?

That’s the question Habs’ fans are asking themselves after general manager Bob Gainey sent jaws dropping today at the team’s practice facility when he informed reporters that he has told Kovalev to take a few days off in what the G.M. acknowledged “wasn’t a normal player move.”

And how long will Kovalev cool his jets from the sidelines?  “A short period of time,” on the one hand.  But on the other hand, Gainey refused to speculate on the likely hood of Kovalev returning to the lineup.

Or not.

“I felt that in the games that I watched, in my discussions with the coaching staff, and my understanding of Alex, that it was my suggestion, for him to relax for a couple of days and stay away from the team.  We’ll evaluate over that period of time and make decisions accordingly.”

Those decisions could come as soon as Saturday, when the Canadiens return home to face the Ottawa Senators.  But in the meantime, the Habs have arrived in Washington to face the Capitals Wednesday night before they move on to face the Penguins in Pittsburgh Thursday night. 

Minus Alex Kovalev.

With the Mar. 4 trade deadline just weeks ago, Gainey was asked if Alex Kovalev is on the market.

“I haven’t talked to any teams about him,” said the G.M.

If teams were interested, would he talk?

“We’re in the trading season,” was Gainey’s response

Gainey clearly isn’t enamored with Kovalev’s work ethic.  That, coupled with his lack of production, has left number 27 in a state of suspended animation with this organization.  Gainey suggested if Kovalev had twice as many points and goals as he has right now, he’d be willing to overlook those shortcomings, saying  “we probably wouldn’t be standing here.” 

Gainey says Kovalev wasn’t happy when he received the news, but added that Kovalev agreed it could be a good thing in the long run.

“Alex and I have a good communicating relationship.  He’s proud. He doesn’t want to leave this team.  He doesn’t want to not be with the team when he feels like they need him most.  So he was not in direct agreement with me.  But at the same time I think he felt that he could trust me enough so that my suggestion to him could be positive for him and team.”

All right.  Let’s step back and look at the situation from that standpoint.  How could such a move be positive for Alex Kovalev? 

The only way Alex Kovalev will get a chance to prove that Gainey’s move will be a positive one, for Kovalev, at least, is if the G.M. gives number 27 another shot.  That is the only way Kovalev will get an opportunity to prove himself.  To prove that he belongs on this team.  To prove that he can rise to the challenge, when the team needs him the most.  Otherwise, Gainey’s words will have rung hollow. 

And that is not Bob Gainey’s style.

Yes, I know that Gainey said that this is the trading season.  Gainey was simply stating the obvious.  More than that, I believe he was sending a message to Kovalev with that kind of statement.  Not that Kovalev needs any kind of reminder, after today.

So, if you’re asking me if I think that Alex Kovalev has played his last game as a member of the Montreal Canadiens, my answer would be:

No.

I don’t believe that Gainey is prepared to write off his enigmatic all-star at a time when they indeed need him the most. 

What Gainey did do, however, was rock the very foundation of this franchise with his move to send Kovalev to the sidelines, and send Sergei Kostitsyn packing to Hamilton, while re-calling Gregory Stewart from the Bulldogs.

His unspoken message to every single player on this club?

You want to play for this team, then play.

WINNING STREAK SNAPPED AT ONE


When the Montreal Canadiens initially released their February practice schedule, they had ice time pencilled in at their facility in Brossard for noon today.

Maybe they should use it.

Then again, why bother.  Nothing seems to be working for this Habs‘ team that fell 4-2 in Vancouver last night, in a game the featured more of the same:  catch-up hockey by the Canadiens; more miserable play by their so-called all-stars; and goal tending that’s not getting this team very far, with Jaroslav Halak the flavour of the night against Mats Sundin and the Canucks.

Ouch.  That one hurt.  Especially when Sundin set up Ryan Kesler on a 2-on-1 that was created when the Canadiens turned over the puck at the Vancouver blue-line to make it 4-1 early in the third and officially put this one out of reach.

Oh, look.  Another Montreal turnover.  So what else is new?

But, the Habs are back home.  For now.  They returned to Montreal in the wee hours of the morning for a day and a half of home cooking, before they hit the road again. 

You recall how much the Canadiens were looking forward to hitting the road?  The opportunity to get out from under the microscope at at a time when the team was struggling?  Well, after four games on the road, the Canadiens are still struggling.  And the future doesn’t look bright as they get set to embark for the final two stops of this six-game road trip.

Wednesday night they’re in Washington to face the red-hot Alexander Ovechkin and the Capitals; Ovechkin scoring goals number 39, 40 and 41 on the season in last night’s 4-2 victory over the Florida Panthers.  And on Thursday, the Habs are in Pittsburgh where they will face the Penguins, who will have a new face behind the bench to replace Michel Therrien, who was fired yesterday.  His replacement:  Dan Bylsma, who moves up to the N.H.L. ranks after coaching the team’s A.H.L. affiliate in Wilkes Barre-Scranton. 

If nothing else, the Canadiens will be facing a Penguins team that will react to Therrien‘s dismissal with a dead-cat bounce.  Which means the Canadiens could very well return home from this road trip with a record of 1-5;  that one victory of the desperation variety against the Colorado Avalanche, one of the Western Conference bottom feeders.

I’m not going to bore you with any more of the details of last night’s loss.  Suffice to say it was more of the same for this Habs’ team that  has failed to win back-to-back games in exactly one month.  ONE MONTH.  Don’t believe me? Look it up yourself. 

Go ahead, I’ll wait.

The last time the Canadiens won consecutive games was Jan. 15 when they beat Nashville 3-2, and followed that up with a 5-4 win over the Sens in a shootout, two nights later.

You’ll recall last year the Canadiens, when they LOST two in a row, always seemed to turn things around to avoid any extended losing skids.  THIS season, they’re having a hard time simply WINNING two in a row.

But that was last year.  When Alex Kovalev was tearing up the league.  When Carey Price was making Habs‘ fans forget about Christobal Huet with quality goal-tending.  When the power play was clicking.  When Sergei Kostitsyn was playing inspired hockey to the point where he was making big brother Andrei a better player.  When Thomas Plekanec…well…I could go on.  But why bother.

I mean, if this year’s edition of the Canadiens can’t bother, why should I?

A CRY FOR HELP


Though out his team’s slide to oblivion, Montreal Canadiens head coach Guy Carbonneau has maintained that the answer to what ails his team lies with the 23 players in the dressing room.

Nobody is going to do it for them, said the coach, prior to leaving for this current six-game road trip.

That was before the Canadiens fell 6-2 in Calgary Tuesday night, and 7-2 in Edmonton.

Following last night’s loss to the Oilers, Carbonneau stopped just short of issuing a plea to general manager Bob Gainey to step in and help stop the bleeding.  But it was clearly a cry for  help from  The Coach following the Canadiens’ seventh straight loss on the road.

“I’ll sit with Bob and try to find a solution,” said Carbonneau when this one was over.  “But it’s hard to make trades.  You need two teams to do that.”

Words of desperation from a desperate coach.

First of all, let me say that Carbonneau’s lineup changes for last night’s game had me scratching my head in a big way.  Mathieu Dandenault up front in his return to action after an arm injury?  Okay, I could live with that one, even though the Canadiens have been horrible along the blueline, and Dandenault had been playing some solid D prior to his injury.  But easing the veteran back into action as a forward made some sense, although I was surprised to see him on a line with Alex Kovalev and Tomas Plekanec.

And then there was Josh Gorges.  As a forward.  Yes, he’s struggled on the blueline, but why move him up front?  Why sit out Steve Begin in place of Josh Gorges, as a forward? 

Well, that’s what the coach did: sit out both Begin and Sergei Kostitsyn.  And waddaya know: both Dandenault and Gorges responded.  Too bad nobody else did, save for maybe The Captain, who continues to work his tail off.  Dandenault had a goal and two assists, while Gorges finished at plus 2 on the night.

Cold, comfort however, on a night when Carey Price surrendered four goals in the first period.  Price finished the game, and why not?  See what the youngster is made of.  Sure he gave up fat, juicy rebounds all night long.  But, yet again, he received absolutely no help from the players in front of him.

If the coach was looking to move two defenceman to the forward position, maybe he should have started with Andrei Markov and Mike Komisarek.   Because last night they certainly didn’t deserve to be patrolling the blue line.  Komisarek was on the ice for the first four Edmonton goals, although he did finish at “only” -1 for the night.  Markov finished at a -3.  Throughout this entire 11-game stretch of nine losses,  every single Montreal defenceman has played some brutal hockey:  Hamerlik, Bouillon, Komisarek, Markov, Brisebois, Gorges.  

All of them.

Perhaps Montreal’s steadiest defenceman during this stretch has been Ryan O’Byrne.  Go figure.

Like Carbonneau, I have felt that the answer indeed does lie with the 23 men in this Canadiens’ locker room.  The same way you can point 23 fingers when it comes to laying blame for this mess. 

When Alex Kovalev took a high stick in the face and had to be helped off the ice last night,  I could just hear Habs fans silently praying he wouldn’t be back.  Kovalev has been an easy lightning road for what has been ailing this team.  Often, for very good reason, as the result of his status as the most talented player on this team.  Well, Kovalev came back, stitched up across the nose. 

Misery loves company.  And the Canadiens have been a miserable hockey team. 

TEAM.

Now what?  Well, there will be no trip to the bowling alley for this bunch today.  Despite catching the red-eye and flying into Denver in the wee hours of the morning.  The Coach fully intended to take advantage of  his team’s scheduled ice time at the suburban Westminster Promenade Arena this morning, ahead of tomorrow night’s game against the Colorado Avalanche.

More help from down on the farm?  You might be interested to know that, while the Canadiens were busy losing to the Oilers, the Hamilton Bulldogs were busy beating the Hershey Bears 4-2,  led by the 36-save performance of the game’s first star, Marc Denis.

Just thought you might wanna know.

SAY IT AIN’T SO, ALEX


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.”

Bingo.

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.

Right, Alex?

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