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Kovalchuk: 'It's great when everybody's on the same page'

You can tell that Ilya Kovalchuk loves being a difference-maker night after night

by Matt Cudzinowski @CanadiensMTL /

BROSSARD - We've already seen plenty of magic from Ilya Kovalchuk, but he still has a few more tricks up his sleeve.

Following Saturday's morning skate, the Russian winger was asked whether he's at his best both mentally and physically right now.

And his response should excite Canadiens fans across the globe.

"It's coming," responded Kovalchuk, who has seven points (3g, 4a) in seven games since joining the club in early January as a free agent. "But I think the break will be good, too, because we have so many games here and I didn't play for two months. The break will be good for everybody to do their work, get in shape, and come back even stronger."

Video: Ilya Kovalchuk on Vegas head coach Peter DeBoer

The veteran winger is referencing the upcoming bye week Claude Julien's squad will enjoy following tonight's matchup against the Vegas Golden Knights at the Bell Centre.

It's an opportunity for the Habs to build on their big victory over the Philadelphia Flyers earlier in the week, and secure their fourth win in the last five games as they look to climb back into the thick of things in the Eastern Conference playoff hunt.

Kovalchuk is relishing every single second of trying to help right the ship in Montreal.

"It's great. It's why we play hockey, to win games and to make the playoffs. It's great when everybody's on the same page," mentioned Kovalchuk, who is coming off a two-goal effort in the City of Brotherly Love. "Everybody works so hard to get there so we know we can be much better and more consistent, especially at home. We've got to start tonight."

Tweet from @CanadiensMTL: Kovy: bon endroit, bon moment.Clean-up on aisle 1������7������.#GoHabsGo

Back on October 31, Julien's contingent mounted a rather impressive comeback against the Golden Knights at T-Mobile Arena, rallying from a two-goal deficit in the third period to ultimately earn a 5-4 win in overtime.

Vegas isn't the same hockey club anymore, though, after making a coaching change earlier this week when Gerard Gallant was replaced behind the bench by Peter DeBoer.

Kovalchuk knows DeBoer well after playing under him in New Jersey, and he respects his work.

"I love him. He was great. If you work hard, he'd always give you a chance," praised Kovalchuk. "He knows the system, he brings a lot of new stuff to the system all the time. And, he's fun to play for. I'm pretty sure the Vegas guys will be very happy with him."

The Golden Knights were successful in DeBoer's debut, posting a 4-2 victory over the Senators on Thursday night in Ottawa.

KK still has his teammates talking...

You probably won't see Jesperi Kotkaniemi drop his gloves on Saturday night, but anything's possible.

The 19-year-old Finn did an exemplary job of standing up for Ryan Poehling during the first scrap of his NHL career at the Wells Fargo Center.

His teammates were proud of his willingness to go toe-to-toe with Robert Hagg early in the third period.

Nate Thompson, who boasts 20 regular-season fights on his NHL resume, gave Kotkaniemi serious props following Saturday's on-ice session.

"It didn't look like his first time. He knew exactly what he was doing," praised Thompson. "He was going over and under and not letting up, and he looked like a seasoned veteran at it."

"Uncle Nate" believes getting an experience like that under his belt can actually help Kotkaniemi in other areas of his game.

"It can build some confidence. I know for myself, when I was younger, I think I got in my first fight when I was in Junior. I think I might've scored the next game," recalled Thompson. "Sometimes, it can have that effect. Hopefully it does the same for him."

Julien isn't expecting Kotkaniemi to become an enforcer, of course.

That's not in the cards for the former third-overall selection.

"I don't think we want to see KK fight, fight and fight. At least he can defend himself. That's one thing we know," said Julien. "And on the other end of what happened the other day, he went to the defense of a teammate. I support that. I have no issues. But I'm certainly not going to tell him to start fighting. That's not his game. I think we expect other things from him. But it's good to see that he can stand up for himself."

Tweet from @CanadiensMTL: 𝐂𝐇𝐎𝐎𝐒𝐄 𝐘𝐎𝐔𝐑 𝐅𝐈𝐆𝐇𝐓𝐄𝐑

Getting the job done

The bye week will be a lot more enjoyable if the Canadiens can send the Golden Knights off to Boston empty-handed.

In order to do that, they'll have to pick up right where they left off against the Flyers. It's as simple as that.

"It's important to finish the right way before the break. I'd like to see more of what we did against Philadelphia," stated Julien. "Concentration and effort, those things were huge for us."

Video: Claude Julien's pregame press conference vs. VGK

This contest is being played on home turf, though, where Montreal owns a subpar 9-12-4 record thus far this season. 

And it's no secret they desperately need to put up a number in the win column to stay on track.

"If we want to be a team that hopes to play in the second season, and hopes for an extended season, we have to improve at home," insisted Julien. "I hope it begins tonight."

Another solid performance from goaltender Carey Price will be key in achieving that objective.

"He made big saves against Philadelphia which looked like easy saves. When he's good, everything seems easy," mentioned Julien, citing Price's 40-save performance. "When he's in his zone, that's what he does. We hope that will continue."

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