MONTREAL – Alex Kovalev is beyond caring much that the Montreal fans who once adored him now boo him each time he visits as a member of the Ottawa Senators.
Despite the jeers that Bell Centre fans save for any star player who goes to another club, Kovalev was at his skating and shooting best on Saturday night as he scored two goals in the Senators 3-2 victory over the Canadiens.
But they can’t dislike him that much, as the 37-year-old was named first star of the game under the Canadiens new system of having fans vote for the three stars.
”I don’t feel it any more,” said Kovalev, who was let go as a free agent by Montreal after the 2008-09 season and then signed with Ottawa. ”It becomes like any other city I go to—I just want to win.”
Zack Smith also scored for Ottawa (7-6-1), which won its third game in a row. After a slow start, the Senators have won five of their last six games and six of their last eight.
The two goals left Kovalev only three points short of 1,000 in a 1,242-game career that began with the New York Rangers in the early 1990s.
”We’ll talk about that (milestone) after,” he said. ”Right now what’s important is that we keep winning games and keep climbing up in the standings.
”It’s a great achievement. If you look back at coming into the NHL at 19 and going over 1,000 games and getting to 1,000 points, that’s a long journey and I’m definitely proud of myself.”
His linemate Peter Regin had two assists but centre Jason Spezza, coming off a four-point game in 4-1 win over the New York Islanders on Thursday, was shut out. Defenceman Erik Karlsson also had two assists as the Senators registered their first win in three meetings with the Canadiens this season.
They also held Montreal to a season-low 23 shots while firing 31 times at Carey Price.
Jaroslav Spacek and Brian Gionta scored for Montreal (8-5-1), which was coming off a 3-2 win Friday night in Buffalo and looked to be short of energy. The Canadiens have lost three of their last four games and have scored only five goals in that span.
”Give credit to our opponents—they were fresh and worked harder than us,” said Montreal coach Jacques Martin. ”The last time we played them in Ottawa they had played the night before and we were fresh.”
Martin was not pleased that his team took six minor penalties, including ”three or four bad ones.”
After one of them, when Spacek went out of his way to take down Spezza, Kovalev picked up a rebound off Sergei Gonchar’s shot and blasted his second of the night in from the top of the right faceoff circle for the eventual winner at 6:42 of the third.
The struggling Gionta made it close with his second goal of the season and first in nine games on a shot on a rush down the right side that went in off goalie Brian Elliot’s knee at 15:53.
Kovalev opened the scoring 17:50 into the game as he tipped a weak Karlsson shot from the point that ducked past Price.
The Senators dominated the middle period and took a 2-0 lead when Jesse Winchester won a faceoff back to Karlsson and Smith was at the doorstep to push in the rebound at 12:15.
Montreal got one back when Spacek’s high shot went in off Gonchar’s stick at 18:39. The goal stood up to video review.
Martin mixed up his lines in a bid to spark the attack and it worked to a degree as Gionta scored. But others including centre Scott Gomez are still not finding the net. And the league’s worst power play went 0-for-2 in a fourth straight game without a goal (0-for-13).
”Gionta had been getting a lot of chances but he wasn’t scoring,” said Martin. ”Tonight one went in for him.
”The focus should be on the process and not the end result. If you focus on the result you get frustrated when you don’t score.”
Notes—Montreal’s off-season acquisition Lars Eller was a healthy scratch for the first time. The Dane has one assist in 13 games. Tomas Plekanec returned after missing one game with a flu. Ryan O’Byrne and Alexandre Picard were also scratched… Ottawa left winger Milan Michalek skated Saturday morning for the first time since suffering a knee injury Oct. 28. He may return Tuesday against Atlanta. . . Elliot started a 10th straight game in goal.