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AK-27 leads the way

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens
 Alex Kovalev scored a goal and added two assists to earn first-star honors against the Penguins.

MONTREAL – Veterans and preseason games don’t often mix all that well, but that’s news to Alex Kovalev.

The slick Russian winger was at his dizzying best against the Penguins, picking up a goal and a pair of assists in a hard-fought 3-2 win over Crosby and Co.

“The first game of the year is never easy,” admitted Kovalev, who sure made it look easy on his way to earning the game’s first star. “But if I can have 82 games like tonight this season that would be okay with me.”

Teamed up with Mikhail Grabovski and Andrei Kostitsyn, Kovalev’s line gave the Penguins all they could handle, even though Pittsburgh’s Michel Therrien went with a veteran-laded lineup. 

“Andrei and Mikhail did a good job creating space and chances with their speed and we felt good together,” said Kovalev of his two young linemates. “Grabovski is really quick and we all saw that last season. Even though he does have the size he plays hard and goes to the net. Andrei has a quick wrist shot and he used it tonight.

“We’ve got some very good young players who want to prove they can play at the NHL level,” added Kovalev.

Kostitsyn’s crash course in Kovalev 101 last season served him well against the Penguins, with the Belarussian winger picking up a goal and an assist.

“I got to play with Kovalev last year and that helped me,” said Kostitsyn without even the help of a translator. “I know how he plays and where he wants me to be.”

Also pleased with the spunk from Kovalev in the Habs’ preseason opener was head coach Guy Carbonneau.

“Overall Alex played a strong game tonight,” said Carbonneau, who rewarded Kovalev with 20:45 of ice-time, tops among Canadiens forwards. “Often you’ll see veterans take preseason games lightly, but Alex worked hard and showed a lot of intensity.”

The one blip on this night for Kovalev was a cough-up that led to the Penguins' first goal of the night, but his coach thinks that may have been a blessing in disguise.

“I was almost happy to see him make that mistake to honest,” smiled Carbonneau. “He was pretty upset when he got back to the bench after that goal and that lit a fire under him. Alex wanted to find a way to make things up to his teammates and that’s exactly what he did.”

Manny Almela is a writer for
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