OTTAWA – Give Alex Kovalev credit. When he breaks out of scoring slumps, he does so in a big way.
The 36-year-old Russian has taken his share of flak in his first season in Ottawa for failing to produce regularly, but on Sunday, Kovalev ended a 10-game goal-less drought with four goals in the Senators’ wild 7-4 victory against the Philadelphia Flyers.
“All I can say is that it’s a good way to start 2010,” said Kovalev, who added an assist for good measure.
The goals were his first since he snapped a 16-game drought with a hat trick on Dec. 12 against the Carolina Hurricanes. Not including the three games he missed after the death of his mother-in-law, those had been the only goals he’d scored since Oct. 29 before Sunday.
“Hopefully, that’s the way it’s going to go for me the rest of the season,” he said. “I’ve been saying before that I’m trying to find the right spot and be in the right spot at the right time. I think today that was exactly what happened. I’ve been chasing that for many games.”
Speaking of chasing, both teams did a good job of doing that to the other’s respective starter.
The Flyers’ Michael Leighton, who’d been hot of late, was gone midway through the first period after giving up two goals on seven shots.
Ottawa’s Pascal Leclaire made it halfway through the game before leaving after he allowed three goals on 10 shots in a back-and-forth contest before a crowd of 17,153 at Scotiabank Place that watched the Senators jump out to a 4-1 lead before squandering it.
The home team then ran away with the contest with three third-period goals.
“It was a weird game all around,” said Flyers goalie Brian Boucher, who took the loss after giving up five goals on 26 shots after taking over for Leighton. “Both of the starting goalies get pulled and we battle back, then unfortunately, they got the better of us in the third. I can’t explain really what happened out there. It’s disappointing to come back and lose like that.”
The seven goals were as many as the Flyers had allowed in their previous five games combined.
Kovalev ran riot in recording his first career four-goal game. He had Ottawa’s first goal against Leighton, who’d started the Flyers’ last five games, leading them to a 4-0-1 record with their only loss coming in overtime to the Boston Bruins on New Year’s Day at the Winter Classic.
This game was no classic, but a memorable one for Kovalev, who notched his hat trick of the season and 12th of his career.
“I’ve been shooting the puck, hitting the post too much, but it looks like today everything was just perfect,” Kovalev said. “Everything I wanted to do happened for me.”
Kovalev’s heroics overshadowed Chris Kelly, who had his first career two-goal game for the Senators (22-16-4), who, playing for the first time since beating the Islanders in shootout on New Year’s Eve, won for the second straight game and fourth time in the past five contests.
“It figures, my first game ever having two goals and he has four, but what are you going to do?” Kelly said. “It was a good win by us. We got off to a good start, kind of lapsed there in the second, but came out in the third and found a way to win.”
Jarkko Ruutu added a goal and an assist for Ottawa and Ryan Shannon and Anton Volchenkov had three helpers apiece.
Elliott finished with 10 saves to record the win.
Arron Asham scored once and set up another goal for the Flyers (19-19-3) and Ian Laperriere, Darroll Powe and Mike Richards, on the power play, also added singles.
James van Riemsdyk chipped in with a pair of assists.
Laperriere had given Philadelphia a 1-0 lead at the 2:10 mark of the first period when he beat Leclaire, making his sixth straight start since returning from a fractured cheekbone, from the right wing just a step inside the blue-line. It was Philadelphia’s second shot of the game.
But things quickly went south for the Flyers.
“It’s individual preparation (that’s the problem) and that’s another example,” Laperriere said of his team’s first period.
Kovalev tied the game 2 ½ minutes later and, after Kelly beat Leighton at the 9:07 mark, the Flyers made a goaltending switch.
Boucher’s first contribution was to scoop the puck out of his net after just 80 seconds when Ruutu scored and Kovalev less than two minutes after that and the Senators were coasting.
“If you’d told me we’d be tied after the second, I wouldn’t have believed you,” Shannon said. “We thought everything was going well, then we kind of laid an egg there in the second.”
Powe and Asham responded early in the second to end Leclaire’s afternoon and Richards completed the comeback with a bullet to the top corner during a 5-on-3 power play with Matt Carkner and Kelly in the box.
“As a defensive pairing, it was me and (Chris) Campoli out for the first three goals against and it just seemed like we were a second too late and they ended up in the back of our net,” said Carkner, who, along with Campoli, finished minus-3.
However, Kovalev got the winner when he struck for his third after Boucher couldn’t control a shot by Shannon at the 2:57 mark of the final period.
Kelly added another with the teams playing four players aside and Kovalev scored his fourth on a shot from the slot.
It’s the fifth time in franchise history a member of the Senators has scored four goals.
“It’s tough on both teams with that many goals being scored, hard on the goalies and whatnot, so just to maintain our composure … our skilled guys came through,” Carkner said. “Kovy put four in the back of the net. Having guys answering back like that is what winning teams do, so it’s great.”
NOTES: The Senators made defenceman Alexandre Picard, a former Flyer, a healthy scratch for the second straight game. … The teams split the first two games of the season series in Philadelphia earlier this year. … Philadelphia goalie Ray Emery is still recovering from abdominal surgery last month and missed a chance to play in Ottawa for the first time since leaving the Senators. … Forwards Riley Cote and Mika Pyorala were scratched from the Flyers’ lineup while defencemen Ryan Parent and Ole-Kristian Tollefsen, who are both day-to-day with injuries, also sat out.