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Notebook: Homecoming King

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins
KANATA, Ontario – Penguins winger Alex Kovalev returned to Ottawa to play against his former team for the first time since a Feb. 24 trade brought him to Pittsburgh. And it was Kovalev’s Penguins that got the best of the Senators with a 5-1 victory Tuesday night at Scotiabank Place.

“It was just important to see the fans and play in the arena and see the old teammates that I played with for a couple of years,” Kovalev said. “Otherwise, it was just about getting two points and getting out of here.”

Kovalev got on the scoresheet midway through the third period. After fighting through a check in the corner he got the puck to Dustin Jeffrey down low. Jeffrey passed to Zbynek Michalek in the circles for the goal.

Kovalev nearly scored a goal late in the second period when he re-directed a shot from the point just over the crossbar. After the play, Kovalev glanced at the ice for some time reflecting on the opportunity. He finished the game with an assist, a plus-2 rating, three shots and seven shots blocked by Ottawa players.

“I had a few chances,” he said. “I’ve been having a tough time putting the puck in the net, but the chances have been there. As long as my team is winning, that’s what’s important. Eventually they’ll go in. One goes in and then the second and then a whole bunch.”

Kovalev played one-plus seasons in Ottawa, notching 32 goals and 76 points in 131 games.

Chris Kunitz plays with the energy and explosiveness of a spark plug. And his return to the lineup since missing 13 games has certainly been a jolt of life for the Penguins.

Kunitz racked up three assists against the Senators. That effort comes on the heels of a two-goal game Sunday against Edmonton.

“(Kunitz) has the presence and speed. He’s got the physical presence, but he’s also a guy that can be a factor around the net and make plays,” head coach Dan Bylsma said. “When he’s playing that game he’s a hard guy to handle. He’s been that for that line. When he gets around the net, he’s led the way with that presence.”

“I’m just getting used to new linemates,” Kunitz said. “We’re getting the chemistry back.”

Kunitz and his linemates – Jordan Staal and Tyler Kennedy – combined for seven points as Staal and Kennedy chipped in a goal and an assist each.

“We work well together,” Kunitz said. “Staal is a horse that can take the puck anywhere on the ice. TK is great down low, (can) move the puck and go east-west. It’s nice that we can compliment each other when we’re out there and put pucks to the right areas. It’s nice to be successful.”

“They’ve gotten back to playing well as a line, playing well defensively and getting match up against other team’s top line,” Bylsma said. “They’ve gotten to the offensive zone and played there. … That’s a line that can be a real force down low in the offensive zone and they were again tonight.”

As of March 7, Zbynek Michalek had gone 91 NHL games without a goal (not including the playoffs). In the last four games since that date, Michalek has three goals.

“After I got the first one I could relax and stop thinking about it,” Michalek said. “I got some confidence shooting the puck. Any time I get the puck now I feel pretty good and just want to get it on net.”

Jeffrey had the puck behind the net and got it to Michalek in the circles. Michalek ripped a shot that blistered into the goal.

“Jeffrey made a great play behind the net,” Michalek said. “I was just trying to not hit the goalie. It was easy because he made a great play.”
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