MONTREAL – He doesn’t open up about his feelings very often, but Alex Kovalev said thank you to Bob Gainey the best way he could—by playing like the player his general manager knows he can be.
Fresh off his days of forced rest, Kovalev wasted little time proving that his time away from the rink did him a world of good. A goal, two assists and big 5-3 win later, the new and improved Kovalev almost single-handedly handled the Senators.
“Alex is a player who plays on instinct,” explained head coach Guy Carbonneau. “He’s a really good player and we knew that all along.”
While there was no denying the results of the resting Kovalev experiment, the rejuvenated winger was still breathing a sigh of relief when it was all said and done.
“I really didn’t know what to expect today. I was looking to start fresh and forget the past. I just knew coming into the game that I felt like a different player,” described Kovalev. “I was hoping to make a difference any way I could. I feel better than I have in a long time, and it feels like a new beginning, like I’ve just been traded here.”
His successful return to the ice was crowned by a gesture he made after being named the game’s No. 1 star. On top of taking his time to blow even more kisses to the crowd than he normally does, Kovalev decided to toss his stick into the stands where it landed in the unsuspecting hands of a lucky fan. Once he disappeared into the tunnel leading back to the Canadiens’ dressing room, chants of Kovy began to fill the Bell Centre.
“I came back, got three points, we got the win and somebody got my stick,” recapped Kovalev with a smile. “I just wanted to make someone else as happy I am today.
“From Day 1, the support I’ve had from the fans has been amazing. They’ve always been behind me and so I’m not surprised,” said Kovalev. “All I can say to the fans is that it helps a lot, believe me.”
From love from the fans to support from team management and the coaching staff, Kovalev had plenty of help getting himself back to the “happy” place he now finds himself.
As frustrated as his coach was in the midst of Kovalev’s rough patch, Carbonneau knows that life in the NHL isn’t what it used to be.
“Not everyone realizes how tough an pro athlete’s life can be,” admitted Carbonneau. “The Red Wings just announced they are giving Chris Osgood days to rest. These guys have pressure coming from their GM, their coaches and their fans. When I was player and you could get a break if you were in a slump and it’s not like that today. The only problem I’m going to have now is that all my players are asking for a few days off!” Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.comRead also:Fly on the Wall: Feb. 21, 2009 The Numbers Game: Feb. 21, 2009 Habs win six straight over Ottawa