Samsonov went public with his unhappiness over being dropped from one of the top lines and hinted broadly that he’d prefer to be traded than to sit on the bench.
And Kovalev put the team in a hole when he was ejected in the second period of a game in Boston for disputing the officials’ failure to call the kneeing penalty he felt the Bruins deserved after a collision at centre ice.
But both were in good spirits after a 5-4 shootout loss Saturday night to the rival Toronto Maple Leafs.
The pair was reunited on a nearly all-Russian line with Kazakhstan native Alexander Perezhogin that produced all of Montreal’s goals. Samsonov scored twice, Perezhogin once and Kovalev had three assists, including one on defenceman Sheldon Souray’s game-tying goal late in the third period.
Kovalev was moved from right wing to centre to form the trio.
“I don’t mind, I’ve played centre before,” he said, before adding with a laugh. “The next question is if we’re going to stay together. I don’t know.”
Kovalev was harshly criticized for his outburst in Boston and his post-game rant about the officiating, but he shrugged at the suggestion that it had been a tough week.
“I got my point across and I feel better now,” he said.
He also came to Samsonov’s defence.
“Those kind of players, you need to give them more time,” he said. “We gave a chance to other players to adjust themselves while it’s still the beginning of the season.
“For Sergei, it’s a new team and he needs just a little more time. They need to be patient. You can’t just jump on a guy and put him in a hole and then let him recover from it.”
Samsonov, who signed a US$7.05-million, two-year contract as a free agent this summer, has had his two best games as a Canadien in the two matches since he was demoted to the fourth line in the third period of a 4-1 loss to Buffalo.
Coach Guy Carbonneau saw that his line of centre Tomas Plekanec with Kovalev and Samsonov wasn’t working and moved Samsonov around to try to find a winning combination.
In the end, it was Plekanec, who has only two assists this season, who was dropped to a checking line.
But the Russian veterans took more heat Sunday from one of the greatest Canadiens of all time – Guy Lafleur, who works for the team in a community relations capacity.
In his weekly column in Le Journal de Montreal, likely written before Saturday night’s game, Lafleur, who never minces his words, blasted both players for putting themselves ahead of the team.
And he urged head coach Guy Carbonneau to assert his authority, even scratch them from the lineup for some games if he must, to prevent dissension from spreading on the team.
“Me, myself and I, that’s Kovalev’s motto,” Lafleur wrote. “He punishes everybody because he’s not playing up to his expectations.”
Lafleur added: “I say without exaggeration that Samsonov and Kovalev are very talented, but they are very, very, very capricious.”
And he concluded with: “If they’re not happy, they should be scratched for some games. It should be avoided at all cost that one or two players takes control of the team.
“The only person who should be in charge on the ice is Guy Carbonneau. Kovalev’s behaviour risks creating dissension in the ranks. Some players will defend him, others will keep quiet while blaming him on the inside, but the team will end up divided and weakened. Carbonneau absolutely must deal with this firmly.
“On a hockey team, there’s nothing as useless as a prima donna who creates more problems than nice plays.”
One player Kovalev may have been referring to as being given time to adjust is 19-year-old winger Guillaume Latendresse, who played his 10th game on Saturday night.
That all but confirms he will be with the NHL club for the rest of the season. After 10 games, a player is deemed to have one year of NHL service, which counts toward his eventual eligibility for free agency.
If the Canadiens wanted to send him back to the junior Drummondville Voltigeurs, they likely would have done it before he reached his 10th game.
Latendresse got 15 minutes of ice time on Saturday, his most yet, but has yet to record an NHL point.
Montreal’s players were given a day off Sunday, but Carbonneau made clear that it had been scheduled in advance and definitely wasn’t because of their performance against the Leafs, who outshot the listless Canadiens 51-22.