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Montr?al Canadiens vs. Phoenix Coyotes @NHLdotcom
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GAME: Montreal Canadiens (34-26-6-2) at Phoenix Coyotes (20-26-15-5).

TIME: Friday, 9 p.m. EST.

Alexei Kovalev didn't appear to play with much inspiration as a New York Ranger. The Montreal Canadiens hope a new work environment will change that.

Kovalev is expected to make his Canadiens' debut when Montreal continues a four-game road trip against the struggling Phoenix Coyotes.

In an effort to bolster a mediocre offense for the playoffs, the Canadiens acquired Kovalev from the Rangers on Tuesday for prospect Josef Balej and a second-round draft pick.

Kovalev was one of several disappointing players for the Rangers this season, managing 13 goals and 29 assists in 66 games. He became the first marquee player traded by New York, which has since dealt center Petr Nedved and defenseman Brian Leetch.

Kovalev had career highs with 44 goals and 95 points with Pittsburgh in 2000-01. He hopes to recapture that form for Montreal.

"I like being with a young team that's real competitive," Kovalev said. "I knew that I was going to be moved, but I never thought I'd be going to Montreal. They really like to win. You see the guys being happy and smiling when they're winning. Hopefully, I can fit in."

Kovalev did not play in Montreal's 4-3 loss at San Jose on Wednesday after sitting on a plane for eight hours. He is expected to join captain Saku Koivu and Richard Zednik on the Canadiens' top line Friday.

"I know they play a more defensive style, but as long as we're winning, that's no problem," Kovalev said. "I'll do whatever the coaches want me to do."

One area where Kovalev doesn't figure to help is penalty killing, and that's where the Canadiens lost Wednesday's game.

San Jose scored three power-play goals, ending Montreal's season-high five-game win streak.

"At this stage of the season, we have to be better than that," Montreal coach Claude Julien said. "Some of the penalties we took weren't very good, but your special teams have to come up big at times. We need some better effort, more pride in doing the job properly."

Phoenix is 13th in the Western Conference with virtually no shot at the playoffs. The Coyotes dropped to 0-2-0-2 under interim coach Rick Bowness with a 5-4 overtime loss at Edmonton on Tuesday.

"I'm a little rusty," said Bowness, who took over for Bob Francis last week. "I haven't been a head coach for six years. I wasn't very happy with myself after the first few games. I wasn't where I wanted to be."

Phoenix has won just two of its last 18 games (2-11-2-3).

The Coyotes acquired goaltender Brent Johnson from St. Louis on Thursday in exchange for veteran center Mike Sillinger. Johnson will serve as Brian Boucher's backup.

STANDINGS (through March 3): Canadiens - 76 points, 4th place, 8 PB, Northeast Division. Coyotes - 60 points, 5th place, 23 PB, Pacific Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Canadiens - Zednik, 20 goals; Mike Ribeiro, 37 assists and 55 points; Darren Langdon, 119 PIM. Coyotes - Ladislav Nagy, 24 goals; Shane Doan, 40 assists and 62 points; Andrei Nazarov, 118 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS (through March 3): Canadiens - Power play: 17.8 percent (48 for 270), 7th in NHL. Penalty killing: 81.3 percent (208 for 256), 26th. Coyotes - Power play: 15.4 percent (45 for 293), 21st. Penalty killing: 82.1 percent (270 for 329), 23rd.

GOALTENDERS: Canadiens - Jose Theodore (27-24-5, 6 SO, 2.15 GAA); Mathieu Garon (7-4-1, 2.44). Coyotes - Boucher (9-14-8, 5, 2.69); Johnson (4-3-1, 1, 2.43).

SEASON SERIES: Canadiens, 1-0.

LAST MEETING: Dec. 7, 2002; Canadiens, 4-2. At Phoenix, Jeff Hackett made 14 of his 29 saves in the first period and Ribeiro set up two goals for Montreal.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Canadiens - 15-15-2-2 on the road; Coyotes - 10-14-5-3 at home.

Associated Press
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