He may not have been sold on the merits of the forced days of rest imposed by his general manager, but a reinvigorated Kovalev now feels differently about the fateful chat he had with Bob Gainey on Tuesday.
“At first, it wasn’t easy for me to hear,” admitted Kovalev about being asked to stay away from the team for a few days by Gainey. “I was surprised, upset and it was a tough thing to swallow. But now, 48 hours later, my mind feels fresh and I feel much better physically.”
Gainey used the downtime he recommended for his All-Star winger to sit down with Kovalev and help him through his rough patch.
“I think Alex gradually isolated himself from the group by trying to find his own solutions to what was troubling him,” said Gainey, who spoke to Kovy several times over the past few days. “With the injuries we’ve had to battle with to key players this season like Alex Tanguay, Saku Koivu and Robert Lang, Alex was taking too much pressure onto his shoulders. That was a heavy load to carry.”
The first to admit his reluctance to approach anyone about what he’s been going through this season, Kovalev thankfully had his GM take the initiative to come to him.
“I’m not the kind of guy likes to explain how I feel to people and talk about my problems,” explained the 35-year-old Kovalev. “I’m not an open person in that way. Bob is probably the only person that I’m comfortable talking to about my feelings.”
Watching from the comfort of home, Kovalev saw how his linemates Tomas Plekanec
and Andrei Kostitsyn erupted for a combined nine points over his two-game hiatus.
“It must just be my turn now,” quipped Kovalev with a familiar smile he hadn’t flashed in some time. “I’m really happy for them. I did all I could to help them this year just as they have for me. Now it will be up to them to tell me what they want me to do. The last thing I want to do is ruin their streak.”
After a spirited 90-minute workout with his teammates, Kovalev is counting the hours until he returns to action on Saturday.
“It was like I was a different player out there today,” said Kovalev. “It was great to see the guys again and they really made me feel welcome. Some of them called me the last few days to encourage me, too.”
Gainey knows what the real Alex Kovalev can mean to the playoff fortunes of his hockey club.
“If he is now back as the Alex we all know, it will be like we’ve just made a trade for a new player,” said Gainey.
With Kovalev feeling better than he has in months, his head coach was left with a no-brainer on his hands heading into this weekend’s battle with the Senators.
“Alex has made it clear to me and Bob how much he wants to stay and fight for the Montreal Canadiens,” said Guy Carbonneau. “That’s the most important thing and why it was an easy decision for me to have him come back and play against Ottawa.” Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.com