For Rage Against the Machine, “anger is a gift.” For Atlanta superstar Ilya Kovalchuk, it’s both a gift and a curse.
Seeing Kovy up close and in person Tuesday night, it occurred to me just how dialed in the enigmatic Russian sniper can get when properly motivated. Kovalchuk certainly hasn’t set the league on fire yet this season, though he is heating up with 12 points in his past nine games. With his shot and ability to create space for himself, it’s no surprise he once flirted with 100 points; tallying 98 in the 2005-06 campaign.
So here’s the rub: While Kovalchuk was dangerous offensively in a 6-3 victory over Toronto, he was also completely unhinged, taking dumb penalties at inopportune times and giving the Maple Leafs a chance to get back in the game.
Kovalchuk’s instant rivalry with Toronto’s Ian White quickly degenerated from a clean hit by White into a dirty, two-fisted jump-punch by Kovalchuk, followed by a White hit on Kovy when he didn’t have the puck and culminating in a fight.
(At this point I’d like to digress for a minute and point out that the refs jumped in way too early in the Kovy-White donnybrook. It was as if they knew the league didn’t want one of its stars sticking up for himself, since it’s pretty easy to get injured while fighting. The same officials didn’t seem to care when Jamal Mayers and Garnet Exelby threw down earlier in the game.)
I’m always for players – maybe even more so with skilled stars – getting snarly in a game. Mats Sundin was at his best when he was surly and there’s a boatload of reasons you don’t want to chase a puck that has gone into Chris Pronger’s corner. But Kovy needs to harness that snarl. What good is a highlight reel goal if the other team gets the score back because you’re sitting in the penalty box?
Kovalchuk has a history of poorly timed violence. For example, recall his one-game suspension for a charging major against Switzerland at the 2008 World Championship, in a game Russia won 6-0.
If he could ever figure out a way to balance his blinding skills with his blinding rage, the Thrashers would have a genuine difference-maker, not just a really talented sniper who has yet to win a playoff game.
BEACH NIGHT AT THE ARENA
I don’t want to disparage any one goaltender in particular, but if I’m the game night events coordinator in a city hosting a team with a struggling netminder, how do you not make it beach ball night?
Think about it: star goalie ‘x’ with a goals-against average above 3.00 comes to town and everyone in the stands gets a beach ball with his sweater number in his team’s colors on it. You couldn’t hand the balls out before the game – drunks would throw them on the ice enough times that you’d forfeit – but you could advertise that everyone gets one at the end of the game and maybe bounce a big one across the ice during intermissions.
Now that would be high comedy.
Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Mondays and Wednesdays, his column - The Straight Edge - every Friday, and his features, The Hot List and Prep Watch appears Tuesdays and Thursdays.