MONTREAL - He may have been on crutches rather than skates, but Alex Kovalev was nonetheless back in the Canadiens dressing room Monday morning for the first time since having arthroscopic surgery on his right knee in Pittsburgh last Tuesday.
"It was nice to see all the guys again, but being here makes me wish even more that I was ready to come back right now," said an upbeat Kovalev while speaking to the Montreal media in front of his stall. "But for now, all I can do is give myself the time to heal."
Kovalev who will be on crutches until sometime next week, was cautiously optimistic about making a speedy recovery.
"I'm feeling pretty good, but it's tough to tell anything right now," said the 32-year-old winger, who is expected to be sidelined for a total of four-to-eight weeks. "I worked out a bit this morning just on upper body and range of motion stuff but until I'm off these crutches and start walking again, I'm just going to have to take it one day at a time. There hasn't been any swelling which is great news, but it's really too soon to tell."
His return to Montreal took a little longer than expected since flying home was not an option given the tender state of his knee. Instead, Kovalev and his wife Eugenia made the trip back together by car.
The media throng on hand to greet Kovalev upon his return weren't the only ones glad to see No. 27 back at the Bell Centre in such good spirits.
"For sure it was great to see Kovy this morning. You could tell that he's already dying to get back out there, but I reminded him of how important it is for him to take it easy at this stage," said Saku Koivu, who knows a thing or two about recovering from knee surgery, having already had work done on each of his own. "He said he already felt a little more flexible so that's a good sign. If it was up to him, he would probably start his rehab right now, but resting is the best thing for him to do and deep down he knows that too."
When asked whether he would have to wear a brace when he does make his on-ice return, Kovalev provided his own unique perspective on the world of medicine.
"I never wore a brace in my life," said Kovalev. "I don't believe in them. I figure if the doctor says my knee is fixed and ready for me play, that's good enough for me. If I still need a brace, doesn't that mean that I'm not actually ready or healthy enough to play?"
Whenever he does come back, it won't be soon enough for the big Russian.
"No one likes having surgery or being on crutches but this was the right decision and the only way to go," reaffirmed Kovalev. "Most of all I'm just relieved that it's over with and now I can focus on coming back and helping the team. While I was playing through the pain, it was always on mind. At least now there's no more worrying."
Until Kovalev is back on the ice, Canadiens fans might beg to differ.
Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.com