|Senators forward Alex Kovalev says he found it difficult to watch the team's games while he sat out six games after aggravating his surgically repaired left knee (Photo by Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images).
The waiting, Alex Kovalev admits, has been the hardest part.
But after sitting out six games with a knee ailment, the Ottawa Senators forward is set to make his return to the lineup for tonight's matchup with the Montreal Canadiens at Scotiabank Place (7:30 p.m., Sportsnet East, Team 1200).
"What else can you do at this time of the season?" Kovalev said following a team meeting earlier today. "You want to play hockey. You don't want to be watching on TV. The most fun is on the ice."
Kovalev underwent season-ending surgery last April to repair a torn ACL in his left knee. While getting back into the game "was tough maybe for the first month" of this season, he said "I felt pretty good the next two months." But during a Jan. 8 game against the Blackhawks in Chicago, Kovalev caught a rut in the United Center ice and twisted the knee.
"We played (the next night) against Tampa and it got worse," said the 37-year-old Kovalev. "I just couldn't go and I got a little bit nervous. There was no reason for me to be out there feeling 60 per cent."
While the Senators weren't expecting him back for a few days yet, Kovalev declared himself good to go against his former Montreal teammates following a vigorous workout this morning.
"I wasn't sure about it yesterday, but today I've been working out and it felt different compared to last night," said Kovalev. "I haven't done anything for about a week and the last couple of days, it was hard to make a decison about (when to return). But after good workouts the last couple of days, it felt pretty good."
Senators head coach Cory Clouston suggested Kovalev, who's recorded eight goals and 18 points in 42 games so far this season, has had a tougher time recovering from knee surgery then perhaps he was letting on publicly.
"I think the frustrating part for him as well as us this year is that he hasn’t been 100 per cent healthy basically from the start of the season," said Clouston. "And if he was, depending on the game or what happened during that game, sometimes his knee would bother him. So to me, he showed a lot of character to try to stay in the lineup at times when I know he wasn’t letting on to anyone that it was bothering him. But we knew better.
"You want to be out there and you want to be helping the team. Sometimes, I tried not to watch the game because it’s really hard. Some players are fine with that, watching games, but for me, it’s a little hard. It gets frustrating because you’re not playing and you can’t contribute, you can’t help and you’re not there. This is what you love to do, be with your teammates, have fun and try to win games. I’m glad I’m back and I don’t have to think about it anymore." - Alex Kovalev
"It got to the point where he had to take himself out, sit back and rehab it for the last week. We're hoping that tonight, he’s able to go out and play hard against his old team and give us some offence that we need."
While his teammates have struggled mightily at times through a 1-6-3 skid that has dampened their playoff hopes, Kovalev watched from the sidelines, unable to provide any help. It might have been the toughest part of it all.
"You definitely want to be a part of it," he said. "It doesn’t matter if it’s a loss or a win. You want to be out there and you want to be helping the team. Sometimes, I tried not to watch the game because it’s really hard. Some players are fine with that, watching games, but for me, it’s a little hard.
"It gets frustrating because you’re not playing and you can’t contribute, you can’t help and you’re not there. This is what you love to do, be with your teammates, have fun and try to win games. I’m glad I’m back and I don’t have to think about it anymore."
Also tonight, the Senators will give goaltender Mike Brodeur his first start of the season against the Canadiens. The Calgary native, who came on in relief of starter Brian Elliott during Thursday night's 6-2 road loss to the Philadelphia Flyers, went 3-0-0 last season with the big club, but has only seen mop-up duty during the current campaign. His season start was delayed for the better part of two months after suffering a concussion in the Binghamton Senators' opener on Oct. 8.
"He's a competitor, he's a pretty vocal guy in the room and he cares a lot," said Senators forward Nick Foligno
. "So it's going to be nice to have him in there. He's worked really hard and he's overcome a lot of things this year with injuries. He's ready and you can tell by his voice and in practice that he's battling hard. It's nice to give him an opportunity."Around the boards
Tonight's matchup marks the second of three appearances by the Canadiens at Scotiabank Place this season. Montreal currently holds a 3-1-0 edge in the season series, which wraps up April 7 in Ottawa ... If defenceman Brian Lee is in the lineup tonight, it'll mark his 100th career National Hockey League game ... Blueliner Sergei Gonchar
needs three assists to hit the 500 mark for his career.