OTTAWA – Alex Kovalev says his lack of production doesn’t bother him, but it appears to be hampering the Ottawa Senators.
The enigmatic right-winger has scored just four times in 26 games so far this season and has gone 15 straight without finding the back of the net, not including the three contests he missed last month to attend the funeral of his mother-in-law in Russia.
Kovalev’s last goal came Oct. 29 against the Tampa Bay Lightning – but if the 36-year-old is concerned about his scoring slump, he’s not saying so.
“It doesn’t bother me,” Kovalev said following practice Wednesday. “What bothers me the most is that we can’t put up the points.”
The Senators went just 1-3-1 on their recent five-game road trip, then saw their five-game home win streak come to an end at the hands of Kovalev’s former team, the Montreal Canadiens, on Tuesday.
They’re back on the road Thursday to face the Flyers at Philadelphia and Kovalev insists these are trying times for all of the Senators these days, not just him.
“It was a frustrating road trip when we only got three points and we could have done a better job,” he said. “We know we’re good enough, a strong team, and we can do better. There’s still a lot of games to play, maybe we should start now to put up points.”
But the ever-growing consensus around Ottawa is that Kovalev, who has just 14 points on the season, is part of the problem.
While the Senators were on the road, owner Eugene Melnyk was back in Ottawa on Sunday for a charity event, at which he told the media he expects more out of the team’s under-performing stars.
Though he didn’t name anyone, it was clear whom he was referring to: Kovalev and centre Jason Spezza, who’s also struggling with just three goals and 17 points in 27 games.
Ottawa went out and signed Kovalev to a US$10-million, two-year contract in the off-season in an effort to boost the offence.
Kovalev shrugged off the owner’s comments, saying they were aimed at the team and everyone needed to be better as a whole. Spezza was more accepting of the criticism.
“It just shows how passionate (Melnyk) is about the team,” Spezza said. “Thirty games in, me and Kovy have seven goals combined. We expect more of ourselves, too.
“There’s a lot of hockey left, but we definitely want to get going. It’s not fun. It gets masked a little bit when you’re winning games, but we know we’ve got to contribute a little more.”
Ottawa’s fans appear to be increasingly less accepting of Kovalev’s performance, too, judging from their reactions at Scotiabank Place and on sports radio and message boards.
Kovalev received a bit of a pass for his slow start because he appeared to be a contributing factor in Mike Fisher’s early success. However, by the time a massive storm dumped snow on the city Wednesday, fans and the media were piling on Kovalev.
Spezza, often a whipping boy for the team’s struggles, could sympathize.
“He’s a professional and he’s been around for a long time, but you never like to see a teammate taking the blame,” Spezza said. “When we lose a game, it’s everybody’s fault.”
For a player who was supposed to be a power-play specialist, Kovalev has yet to score a goal with the man advantage and has just four assists despite regular power-play duty.
Having scored 30 or more goals four times in his career and at least 20 on 12 occasions, Kovalev is proving just how hard it is to score when you don’t shoot. He’s taken just 35 attempts on goal this season. In comparison, Ottawa’s top two goal-scorers, Milan Michalek (15 goals) and Fisher (13 goals), have taken 80 and 95 shots, respectively.
“He’s so skilled, he’s got to get more of a shooter mentality and in the past he’s had that,” coach Cory Clouston said after Kovalev was part of Senators’ power play that went 0-for-7 against the Canadiens on Tuesday.
Kovalev suggested he hasn’t been playing 100 per cent healthy, but said he’s feeling and playing better lately and it just hasn’t translated to the score sheet.
“There’s certain injuries that have been bothering me, but the last two or three games I’ve been better and getting into position to start shooting more,” he said. “Sometimes it’s hard.
“I don’t want to blame because I got hurt, it’s not a reason. If I’m playing, I’ve got to play the way I can, but sometimes certain things are limiting you.”
With Spezza having lost his spot to Fisher on the team’s top line for the first time in years, Spezza and Kovalev have recently found themselves playing together on the second line, hoping for a change in their fortunes.
It can’t come soon enough for the Senators.
“We’re trying to help each other out,” Spezza said. “We both want to get scoring and want to contribute more. We’ve both got to make a more conscious effort to shoot the puck.”