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Canadiens Kovalev gets some time off

NHL.com @NHL

BROSSARD, Que. (AP) -Canadiens All-Star Alex Kovalev is getting a few days off to rest his body and mind.

Montreal general manager Bob Gainey said he suggested to Kovalev that he skip a two-game road trip to try to help the right wing snap out of a slump.

The move comes a day after the struggling Canadiens acquired veteran defenseman Mathieu Schneider in a trade from Atlanta.

Kovalev did not accompany the team for games Wednesday night in Washington and Thursday night in Pittsburgh. His status for a home game Saturday afternoon against Ottawa and even beyond that is also uncertain.

"Alex's preference was to stay with the team and play, but I could see in his eyes that he agreed with it," said Gainey, adding that the 35-year-old was not suspended and would still be paid."

Asked when Kovalev would be back, Gainey said: "That's not a question I can answer definitely now. I'd rather let a couple of days go by than to make a hasty decision right now.

"We'll talk in the next 48 hours."

Montreal also sent 21-year-old left wing Sergei Kostitsyn, who has eight goals and 23 points, to AHL Hamilton and called up physical forward Gregory Stewart. That move was made at the request of coach Guy Carbonneau and his staff.

The Canadiens have lost 10 of their last 13 games, and Kovalev has only one goal and five assists in that span.

They are tied for fifth in Eastern Conference playoff race, but only five points out of ninth, which would leave them out of the playoffs.

The slide has been enough to get goalie Carey Price to ditch the red pads he started wearing when the Canadiens troubles began. he's gone back to his old white ones.

Kovalev was not at the late afternoon practice Tuesday, but Schneider skated for the first time with his teammates before boarding a plane for Washington.

Kovalev led the club in scoring with 84 points last season, but he is tied for second with only 13 goals and 26 assists in 57 games this season.

He has also looked listless on the ice, rarely showing the energy that made him the team's most popular player with the fans.

"The team doesn't need him the way he's playing now," said Gainey. "To score goals and help other people score, you have to do a lot of different things. To stay on task, to do the mundane, small, detail, mandatory things to keep the team afloat is a harder thing for some players than for others."

There was surprise around the Canadiens dressing room at the Kovalev move.

"It's probably a minor, temporary thing, but the message is clear to the players - we have to step up and move forward," defenseman Mike Komisarek said.

Carbonneau said he hopes Kovalev uses the time with his family to get his mind together and "hopefully he'll come back and play better.

"It was Bob's decision and he doesn't take decisions lightly. I trust his instincts."

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