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Huet taken for hamstring tests, while Canadiens Kovalev insists he's hurt

The Hockey News

The Hockey News

Goaltender Cristobal Huet missed a team function at a suburban rink Thursday while having tests on a pulled left hamstring, while veterans Craig Rivet and Mike Johnson remained out of the public eye with pneumonia and a flu respectively.

And winger Alex Kovalev, who missed the last two games with a sore left elbow, said he may be out of action for two or three weeks.

Huet was injured while allowing Brian Rafalski's power-play goal during the Canadiens' fifth consecutive loss - 5-2 in New Jersey on Wednesday night.

There was no word on how long he will be out but the Canadiens recalled goaltender Jaroslav Halak from AHL Hamilton to back-up David Aebischer. Halak, 16-11-0 with an AHL-leading a 2.00 goals-against-average, is up in the NHL for the first time.

"Unfortunately, (injuries are) part of the game, but everybody has to rise to the occasion and it's no different for me," said Aebischer, who stepped in when Huet was hurt at 13:11 of the second period and allowed one goal on 20 shots.

The two goaltenders had split duties almost evenly in the past three weeks as Huet struggled after carrying the team on his back through November and December. So rust won't be a problem for Aebischer.

"It helps," he said. "I had some decent games.

"I just have to be a little more consistent and we'll be fine."

There has been very little that is fine with the Canadiens in nearly two months.

The team that was pushing Buffalo for first place in the NHL Eastern Conference in December is on an 8-16-1 skid that has seen them drop to the eighth and final playoff position. They have lost seven of their past 10 games in regulation time and another in a shootout.

Each game they are finding ways to lose, either through shaky goaltending, the collective scoring slump of nearly all their top forwards, or, as in New Jersey, a string of bad penalties that saw them shorthanded by two men twice.

The threat of a trade hangs over the club.

While general manager Bob Gainey likely considers himself a buyer at this point, looking for a way to give his attack a boost, he could become a seller if the losing drags on toward the Feb. 27 trading deadline.

That may be why many of the smiles looked pained as the players took part with 120 children in a Quebec Breakfast Club fun day in Brossard, Que.

Among them was Kovalev, who had not been seen by the media since it was announced he had an "upper body" injury Monday - news that was greeted with almost universal skepticism.

In his last game, the struggling Kovalev was benched for most of the third period of a 5-3 home loss to Ottawa due to a defensive gaff. He reportedly took some heat from teammates in a players-only meeting after the game.

At the next practice, Kovalev sat out shooting drills, but was said to be fit to play. He missed the next two games and now says the elbow injury will keep him sidelined for a while.

"It was bothering me for a couple of months," Kovalev said. "I had to play with painkillers.

"I decided that because the pain was not going away, it's not worth it to force it, so I decided to take a rest."

The timing of the injury was just coincidence, he added.

"People say maybe I'm faking the injury and things like that, but it just ended up being right at the time I got benched for the third period and then didn't play the next game," the 33-year-old said.

"It's not that. I figured I'm not helping the team much with the injury and it's better to let somebody healthy play for me. It will be a good thing to rest. Instead of playing with a bad elbow for the rest of the season, maybe I'll be out and I'll come back and have a good run to the playoffs."

Kovalev has produced only sporadically on attack this season, but then, he's not alone.

A 44-goal scorer with Pittsburgh in 2000-01, Kovalev has only 13 goals and 25 assists in 57 games. But that is on a team that does not have any player with 20 goals yet this season.

And the Canadiens find themselves desperate to snap out of their funk when they play host to the defending Stanley Cup champion Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday night.

"It's a hard time for everyone," Kovalev said. "'That's one reason I decided to take a break and heal my elbow.

"I have a feeling that when I come back it's going to be different. I think I'll be able to bring something different to help the team get over the slump and start winning."



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