Kovalev sparks Canadiens to easy win

MONTREAL (Ticker) — Perhaps some time away from the team was
just what Alexei Kovalev needed.

Kovalev returned from his two-game hiatus to record a goal and
two assists Saturday, powering the Montreal Canadiens to a 5-3
victory over the Ottawa Senators.

It ended a 10-game goal drought for the enigmatic All-Star, who,
according to the team, was sent home from the final two contests
of Montreal’s six-game road trip to clear his head.

“I was joking with my teammates that I feel like I was just
traded and was starting fresh all over again,” Kovalev said.

Kovalev’s saga was one of just three controversies this week in
Montreal that left a hockey-mad city in an uproar.

On Tuesday, former Montreal coach Jean Perron created a stir
when he suggested that Sergei Kostitsyn, Christopher Higgins and
goaltender Carey Price were enjoying the Montreal night life too
much and that their partying was negatively affecting their

That story was trumped on Friday, however, when a report in
French newspaper stated that the Kostitsyn brothers – Andrei and
Sergei – were linked to an alleged member of an organized crime
ring recently arrested on drug-trafficking and illegal weapons

“It’s been tough for us,” Canadiens captain Saku Koivu said. “We
had a tough road trip (1-4-1). I felt we played better the last
three games but we only came up with one point. The team
defensive game has been there and tonight it paid off.”

The Canadiens know the best way to quiet the kind of
controversies that seem to arise only in Montreal is to win
hockey games.

They accomplished that Saturday by scoring three power-play
goals to open a 4-0 lead less than seven minutes into the second

Tomas Plekanec and Kovalev scored in the opening 5:38 before
Mathieu Schneider and Patrice Brisebois added power-play goals
in the first seven minutes of the second period to give Montreal
a commanding four-goal advantage.

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While Kovalev has been criticized for lackadaisical play
throughout his career, he has the support of his teammates.

“When (Kovalev) wants to play hard and work, he’s really good,
there’s no doubt about that, and he can help this club win
games,” Montreal coach Guy Carbonneau said.

The Canadiens won for only the fourth time in their last 16
games (4-11-1).

“I played with (Kovalev) in New York and I think everybody knows
the talent he has, what he’s capable of doing and the way he’s
capable of controlling the play,” Montreal defenseman Mathieu
Schneider said. “He’s doing it in probably the best hockey city
in the world and it’s fun to watch him play and play with him.”

Trailing 5-2, Ottawa had a chance to get back in the game early
in the third period but failed to score on a pair of two-man
advantages, one for 47 seconds and the other for 33 seconds.

Montreal backup Jaroslav Halak finished with 44 saves, holding
off an onslaught in the third period when the Canadiens were
outshot, 22-4.

Ottawa’s Brian Elliott was pulled after allowing three goals on
17 shots in the first 23:25 and replaced by Alex Auld, who
stopped 13 of 15 shots.

“Their power play was working well,” Ottawa center Mike Fisher
said. “We just couldn’t seem to stop them. The last part of the
game, I thought we played pretty good, but too little, too late

After the Senators halved the 4-0 deficit on goals by Jarkko
Ruutu and Dany Heatley 2:09 apart midway through the second
period, Montreal’s Mathieu Dandenault delivered the back-breaker
with 19 seconds left in the second.

Heatley added his second of the game on the power play to
complete the scoring with 2:54 left in the contest.