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brings out best in Kovalev.
By Bridget Wentworth
The Rangers have had to endure some staggeringly tough times this past month, but watching the chemistry between Alexei Kovalev and Wayne Gretzky build has tempered the horror somewhat.
The numbers just don't lie. Since the Olympic break, with the Rangers fighting desperately for a playoff spot, the two linemates have combined for 45 points in 16 games. Kovalev has had 10 goals and 10 assists, while Gretzky has scored seven goals and added 18 assists. Of Kovalev's 10 goals, seven were scored with assists from Gretzky.
The last of those came in the 2-2 tie with Pittsburgh on Saturday, when Gretzky set up Kovalev's second of the game with one of his standard -- yet still unstoppable -- passes from the side of the net. Kovalev rifled home the puck without hesitation, a sight that's become more and more common for a player whose willingness to shoot the puck has always been questioned.
"I really think that as much fun and as enjoyable as it's been for me, it's been interesting to watch how Alex has developed. Alex has been just phenomenal to this point," Gretzky said. "Since the Olympic break, he might be one of the best wingers in hockey right now. He's just playing solid hockey.
"John (Muckler) has gotten through to him. He's been spectacular; fun to play with. We've lost some tough games lately, but we'll just keep playing hard as a line."
Without saying it directly, Gretzky's allusion to Muckler "getting through" to Kovalev makes one thing clear: Muckler is doing what Colin Campbell never could. Kovalev wasn't shy about putting forth his theory as to why that is.
"I think Muckler's got more experience in the NHL, and he knows all the players pretty well," Kovalev said. "He can learn a lot about a player just by looking at a couple of games. He's a guy who can see how good a player is and what he has to do to make him play better."
The argument could be made that putting the best hockey player ever on a line with an underachieving winger would work every time. It's just that Muckler has stuck with the combination steadfastly even when Kovalev has faltered, and that didn't always happen in the past.
"They're both creative people, and Alex is a good puck-handler and he's got a great shot," Muckler said. "You'd like him to use it more, although he's used it more lately than when I first came here."
And indications are the trend may continue -- with bigger and better things to come -- into next season. Gretzky's declaration after Saturday's game that he will be back in a Rangers uniform next season gives Kovalev a lot to look forward to.
"It's not only good for me," Kovalev said. "It makes everybody happy to see him saying he'll play again. Wayne does a lot of things for the team. He makes great passes, he gives us leadership. The way he's playing now, he could have a chance to play for another five years."
And set up Kovalev while he's doing it.
With the New York Rangers just six points out of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, Rangers' general manager Neil Smith decided that a new coach, and perhaps new coaching philosophy, was the answer to the Blueshirts' woes.
That change could be the answer to Alexei Kovalev's woes, too.
Despite struggling for wins all season with the highest-paid team in the NHL, there has been little public criticism of Campbell by any of the Rangers. Unfortunately, Campbell was not as tight-lipped as his players, often criticizing his them in the press, perhaps as a way to motivate them.
One of the players that received the brunt of Campbell's criticism was Kovalev. From the time Campbell took over the coaching duties, Kovalev and the coach rarely saw eye-to-eye on what the right winger's role on the team should be. Kovalev seemed to have trouble understanding that hockey was a team sport and Campbell seemed to have trouble understanding that Kovalev had raw talent that was apparent when he played alongside other talented players.
In the past, Kovalev skated with the likes of Mark Messier and, earlier this year, Pat Lafontaine and Adam Graves. That was when things were good. When he struggled, he found himself playing alongside grinders such as Bill Berg or Darren Langdon, who, despite their value to the team, did absolutely nothing to enhance Kovalev's skills. When his production did not improve, Kovalev found himself with even less ice time and soon became the guy everyone mentioned when the subject of Ranger trades came up.
Of course, he never got traded. Why? Perhaps the biggest reasons Kovalev is still in New York are two unfortunate injuries he has suffered in the last year. At the end of last season, with rumors of his imminent departure via either trade or restricted free agency, Kovalev was knocked out of the remaining 37 games with a torn ACL in his right knee. Despite playing in just 45 games, Kovalev still ranked eighth on the team in scoring with 13 goals and 22 assists.
Still, the lingering question about the soundness of his knee kept Kovalev from being a hot commodity on the free agent market, while the Rangers, still fully aware of his potential, re-signed him and crossed their fingers.
Early this season, he struggled to find his scoring touch, a problem that was compounded by fourth line assignments with players known more for their hitting than scoring. Kovalev also sat through long stretches of games where his only movement was down the bench to make room for players who were getting ice time.
Through all the difficulty, Kovalev has managed just nine goals and 16 assists in 48 games this season. He's also a horrible minus-19.
Prior to the Olympics, Kovalev was getting more and more ice time, especially on the power play alongside Wayne Gretzky. Another chance to break out of his season-long slump? Not likely. Speculation is that Smith and the Rangers were showcasing Kovalev's talents in preparation for a trade.
Then, with a trip to Nagano looming, Kovalev suffered the second injury, tearing cartilage in his knee. He hoped rest would be enough, but team doctors decided Kovalev needed surgery, which would keep him out of the lineup until the end of February and end, for the time being, to the trade rumors.
Could Campbell's firing mean a chance for Kovalev to make an impression on new coach John Muckler? Maybe. Then again, maybe not.
Before the Olympics, Smith hinted that he wanted to start a painful yet necessary rebuilding process and look to younger players and success down the road. At 25 (his birthday is today), Kovalev is not exactly old, but he's hardly an up-and-coming prospect, either. Combined with a veteran or two, he could be an important part of a trade package that brings much younger talent and/or draft picks in return.
Once Smith hired the 63-year-old Muckler, however, the team's direction became somewhat more cloudy. While a long-term turnaround plan is still feasible, Muckler's vast experience as a coach and general manager could be just the thing to help tweak the current group of players in an effort to get them to reach full potential. Just six points out of a playoff spot, the team is one good spurt away from getting into position to extend its season.
Then again, Muckler could use that general manager's experience to help Smith gut the team, bring in prospects and picks, and re-build around guys like Richter, Leetch and Niklas Sundstrцm.
Where would that leave Kovalev? That depends on the team's opinion of him. As in, is he a key to the future or a key to making a future deal?
Colin Campbell and Neil Smith had all but made that decision before a pair of injuries forced them to keep Kovalev around. With a new coach in town, Kovalev may get just the chance he needs to start living up to expectations.
©1998 Glenwood Associates, Inc. and The Pro Hockey EuroReport
Kovalev waits in wings as Rangers
take a bow.
If Kovalev's path out of town had been lit somewhat murkily until last night, the floodlights are illuminating it now.
Kovalev was a healthy scratch for the first time since Feb. 10, 1993 last night against the Tampa Bay Lightning, and it didn't matter. The Rangers took a decisive 4-1 victory into the holiday break with a performance that highlighted some of the best this team has to offer.
Great playmaking by Wayne Gretzky. Goalscoring and big hits by Kevin Stevens. Solid goaltending by Mike Richter.
It was all there, with Kovalev nowhere to be seen.
It would not be surprising at all if Kovalev were in a different uniform by the beginning of next week. The Christmas trade moratorium ends Saturday at midnight, and although Rangers GM Neil Smith's heart would love to have Kovalev around forever, his head is telling him it isn't going to happen.
Kovalev has been Smith's special project since Smith made him the first Russian player ever to be selected in the first round of the draft (15th overall, 1991). Smith saw a wealth of talent in Kovalev, a commodity that is still very much there.
The problem has been the utilization of that talent in the NHL, and Kovalev has simply failed at putting his skills to their best use. That is why Smith is busy reconciling himself to the idea of giving up on him.
"You see (the talent) there, and you wonder why he just doesn't use it," Smith said. "At some point, you have to think about the environment he's in. I've always said I'd rather not (trade Kovalev). I've always wanted Alex to be a career Ranger, because I really am fascinated with his skill level."
But if it doesn't help the Rangers, then there really is no point keeping Kovalev on the roster.
Campbell didn't want to say whether or not Kovalev will be back in the lineup Friday night in Buffalo. Both he and Smith prefer to think of last night's benching as a one-game occurrence designed to shake things up.
"I'm looking forward to seeing him come back and contribute, but I think it was the right move tonight, to take him out," Smith said. "Colie did something to wake up the team to a certain extent. I applaud him doing what he did, because some people would go back with the same lineup.
"I think it sends a message to the whole team -- if you're not there for us, we don't need you. And Alex hasn't been there."
So, Campbell went with people who he thought would be there, and it worked.
"We made a lineup decision today for a number of reasons," Campbell said. "We just wanted to win the game. There's no six-month plan, or three-month plan, three-week plan. It was a three-period plan."
But there is no reason for that plan not to be put into effect again Friday night, more so after listening to Kovalev explain himself last night.
"I don't want to change anything. I think I did everything right," Kovalev said when asked what he got out of sitting and watching the game. "It was a strange feeling (to be scratched). I thought, 'What's happening?'
"I'm not playing for him (Campbell). I'm playing for the Rangers, my teammates. I play for myself, and I play for my teammates."
But if you don't play for your coach, then you're probably not going to play at all.
The Rangers honestly root for Kovalev. They want to see him use his prodigious talents not only for his benefit but for theirs as well, but they understand why he didn't take the ice with them last night.
"It's tough for anybody who doesn't play, who doesn't dress, a high-profile player like Alex," Wayne Gretzky said. "He's really well-liked on the hockey team. He's a good guy. Those are tough decisions that have to be made. Nobody likes to not play."
NEW YORK -- The early-morning chat with Colin Campbell seems to have worked. Alexei Kovalev committed only one major error last night instead of three or four.
After last night's 3-2 loss to the Devils at Madison Square Garden, Kovalev still doesn't have a goal. He still doesn't always want to make the safe, simple play.
But he did appear to have a clue most of the time last night, and took regular shifts instead of watching most of the action from his built-in doghouse on the bench.
If Kovalev isn't going to score goals for the Rangers, then he should make it his mission to prevent the other team from scoring. For Kovalev, that means no goofy drop passes that go right to the other teams' players, no attempts at trying to beat three players on one rush.
Kovalev, to his credit, seemed to stay away from that kind of play last night.
His one major gaffe came early in the second period, when he forgot about making the simple play and tried his now-banned superman approach to the game.
At the end of a particularly long shift, Kovalev tried to carry the puck into the Devils' zone instead of dumping it in and going off for the line change. Kovalev zoomed over the blue line with his head down and promptly ran into teammate Eric Cairns. The two went down heavily, and the Devils took advantage of the turnover and went the other way on a two-on-one. Dave Andreychuk fed Randy McKay for the shot from the left circle, but McKay put the puck high and wide over Mike Richter's net.
Other than that, it was a pretty safe night for the young winger, perhaps a bit too safe. If Kovalev can get his risky playmaking tendencies under control, that's one thing. But he's got to start scoring, and soon. The Rangers need all the help they can get in the goal-scoring department, and Kovalev's amazing offensive skills could be the difference in games like last night's, when goals are a valuable commodity against a tough defensive team.
If anyone could get something going offensively against the Devils, then it's a player like Kovalev. Campbell often praises Kovalev's ability to get the puck up ice under any circumstances Campbell calls it "puck transportation." Against the Devils' neutral-zone trap, Kovalev had a few nice rushes into the zone, but the plays he wanted to create didn't go anywhere.
His best display came early in the first. Kovalev flew into the Devils' zone on right wing, and instead of doing his normal solo fly-by around the net, Kovalev did the right thing. He stopped in his tracks, waited for his teammates to join him, and dished the puck across the ice to Brian Leetch, who just missed tucking the puck into the side of the net past Martin Brodeur.
Kovalev's subsequent forays were not so successful. Later in the first, Scott Niedermayer shut him down before he could go 1-on-1 with Brodeur. Minutes later, Brad Bombardir did the same thing, tackling Kovalev along the endboards and ending his hopes of making any kind of play.
After the mistake that led to McKay's chance in the second, Kovalev, who'd played left wing the entire game, was replaced on the Pat LaFontaine-Mike Keane line by Kevin Stevens. It appeared at first that Kovalev might be on his way to another long-term seat on the bench, but he reappeared moments later as the left wing with Wayne Gretzky and Niklas Sundstrom. He and Stevens had merely switched places on the left.
In the third, Kovalev was back with LaFontaine and Keane, and the trio had one particularly effective shift to follow up Sundstrom's goal at 1:26. Kovalev and LaFontaine worked hard down low to keep the puck buzzing around Brodeur, and the Devils were forced to scramble as the Rangers kept control of the puck. Kovalev and LaFontaine tried repeatedly to come out from behind the net, but, in the end, couldn't find the right play. The crowd was pleased with their effort, though, and gave the line a huge cheer as they went off the ice for a change.
RYE, N.Y. -- Alexei Kovalev has never seemed to understand the English word "teamwork," and coach Colin Campbell didn't know the Russian word to explain it to him. But maybe that changed after a 45-minute meeting before the Rangers' practice yesterday at Rye Playland.
It wasn't the first meeting between the two addressing Kovalev's tendency to try to beat opponents by himself with no regard for his teammates or Campbell's game plan. The difference was that this time Kovalev instigated it, knocking on the coach's office door a little after 8 a.m. -- 2.5 hours before practice was scheduled to start.
"Alex and I had a good talk," Campbell said. "It was precipitated by Alex. He came to me. He's frustrated, he should be, and we're frustrated, too. I think the one thing that hasn't changed throughout this year is that his teammates still believe in him. They know he can go out there and change a game at any time. But that's not what we want to happen. We want him to go out there and change the whole game and just do the simple things."
Kovalev injured a knee and missed the second half of last season and big things were expected when he returned this year. But in 17 games, he has not scored a goal and has only four assists. He has been kept on the bench for large portions of games, and his minus-15 isn't impressing anybody.
"I just decided to go in early and talk to Colin," Kovalev said. "What is important right now for me is to get on a roll with the team. Maybe I'm not playing the same style as the team is playing and I'm not on the same track."
This meeting was different than other Colie conferences.
"Before it was definitely different because maybe I was upset and he was upset because the team didn't play good," Kovalev said. "This time I tried go in a different way, sit down and talk nicely. I didn't ask why he didn't give me ice time or complain about things. We've got to figure out how he can help me get going. He knows that if I didn't care, I wouldn't come. I care. I always cared about it and that's why I came early in the morning.
"I went to Colin and asked, 'What can I do better?' He told me what to do and I think it will help. The meeting was my idea. If somebody has a problem, he is going to go talk to the coach, and right now I'm having more problems than anybody. This is the longest I've gone without scoring goals and I have to figure out what to do. Everybody keeps saying it takes time, but now I think we have had enough time to get used to each other. Now we have to figure out what to do to win games."
The solution, Campbell says, is not to give up on Kovalev.
"Some people think that the easy way out is to trade Alex and go on from there, but that's not the right thing to do, that's not what is called for," Campbell said. "Alex is a talent who can bring the puck up on the power play and he's one of the best passers in the league. He has to fight through this."
That Kovalev has gone so long without scoring a goal has made him more receptive to Campbell's advice. Or at least the coach hopes so.
"We all want to achieve the same end," Campbell said. "It is not like we are at loggerheads and we want him to play a different system than he wants to play. He wants to score and he wants to win. We hope that if he follows what we say, he will achieve that. It might not be the way he wants to do it, but this is the only way it's going to work."
Kovlev admitted he has spent too much time looking for picture goals.
"When Mark Messier was here, it was a matter of getting into a nice place and scoring nice goals highlight goals," Kovalev said. "But right now, the way we are playing, we are struggling. Everybody keeps saying we have to score the garbage goals and we have to go to the net and try to find those loose pucks in front of the net. Score those goals first and then everything else will come easier.
"That is definitely a little different for me, but I have to get used to it. I have to get to the net and score those garbage goals. It doesn't matter what it looks like, they all count. So just go to the net and try to find those spots to score a goal and the next day you see your name in the newspaper scoring the winning goal, the tying goal, everybody is happy, the coach is happy and that's the way to be.
"Right now I have to figure out how."
Alexei Kovalev has been benched many times, but there was something about his latest demotion to the end of the bench that seemed more upsetting to him than the others.
On a team that is struggling in so many different areas, Kovalev does not appear to understand his role and what is expected of him. Sometimes he plays on the third line, to give the checking trio a bit of an offensive spark. Sometimes he plays with Wayne Gretzky as his center. Sometimes he skates with Pat LaFontaine in the middle.
Kovalev, through the Rangers' first seven games, has been all over the place, and his performance in Wednesday's 5-1 loss to the Ottawa Senators showed it. Kovalev played irresponsibly, even recklessly, and was a team-worst minus-four. He spent the first 18 minutes of the second period on the bench and, when he finally got onto the ice, Lance Pitlick ripped a slapshot from the right circle past Jason Muzzatti for a 4-1 Senators lead.
Add another minus to his tally, and another question mark next to his name. Kovalev himself would love to find some answers.
"Sometimes I am just so confused," he said. "Sometimes I come back (to the bench), and I don't know what to do next. Every time you do something wrong, it's like you're by yourself. I have no idea why I was on the bench. It didn't mean that I didn't want to play -- I tried hard. I try to do everything right, and it just doesn't happen."
Rangers coach Colin Campbell was not overly enlightening on the subject, other than to allude to Kovalev's penchants for "trying to stickhandle through three people," attempting to do too much by himself and not playing within the team's concept, particularly when said team is 1-2-4.
Kovalev's misery is shared by his teammates, and one in particular hopes Kovalev realizes that. Brian Leetch, a minus-three against the Senators, has not had an outstanding first two weeks. Although he hasn't done anything to deserve a benching, Leetch sees his problems reflected in Kovalev's struggles.
He just hopes Kovalev doesn't sink under the hopelessness that was evident in his voice Wednesday night.
"He's going through the same thing I'm going through. I'm no better than Alex," Leetch said. "I think it's natural for all of us (to question ourselves). I mean, I go through the same thing.
"You're expected to perform at a certain level, and you expect that of yourself. You get down, but I think when the game's over, Alex is pretty good at putting things behind him. He goes out and practices hard, and I think that's the positive for guys like that."
Kovalev acknowledges that he and his teammates have been guilty, as goals have become increasingly hard to come by, of trying to make perfect plays, all the time. It's an understandable inclination, given the type of freewheeling personnel Campbell coaches.
It just doesn't work.
"I'm trying to do the little things right, I just try to do my best things," Kovalev said. "For me, it's a little frustrating when the puck is not going in, and I try not to pay attention. I try to pay attention more to doing everything right.
"We're not scoring goals right now, and I'm trying different things. The whole team is maybe trying too hard."
But Kovalev is the one now feeling the pressure most. Leetch called him "the key to our team," and with accolades like that coming from the captain, Kovalev is finding it difficult to live up to them.
Leetch, for the moment, is not worried. As long as he and the rest of the Rangers can keep Kovalev's spirits up, he doesn't think the funk will last.
"It does tend to wear on you as the games go by and you're not winning," Leetch said. "But Alex works hard in practice, and he'll be ready. As a group, we have to play better to make sure he doesn't take that burden on himself, and that we don't get him going down lower and lower and lower."
By Ike Kuhns
With two ties at home to begin the season, the Rangers travel to western Canada for a game tomorrow night in Edmonton, followed by games in Calgary Thursday and Vancouver Saturday.
One of the bright spots of the first two games, Campbell said, was the play of Alexei Kovalev, the Russian-born right winger who missed the second half of last season after having surgery on his right knee. Kovalev's absence was especially critical in the playoffs and his return to full health and top form is important to Campbell's plans this season.
"Alex has been skating well," Campbell said. "He may get a little frustrated that the goals aren't there, but sometimes out there he looks like a man against the boys with his strength and speed and his power. It's just a matter of turning it and utilizing it properly. Alex has been shooting more and keeping it low, too. The goals and points will come."
Campbell has used Kovalev on a checking line with Brian Skrudland and Bill Berg, a move that serves the dual purpose of adding some scoring punch to the No. 1 checking line while providing Kovalev with a two tough partners for physical support.
Campbell was noncommittal yesterday after practice when asked if that trio would remain intact.
"I'm still trying to figure it out," Campbell said. "That is one thing we've got to get going. We controlled play completely at times in the first two games, although I'm not at all sure it would be the same against a bigger, stronger team like Philadelphia, in all due respect to those two teams we just played (the Islanders and Los Angeles Kings). But controlling the play and winning the game are two different things entirely. We didn't win either game at home against two teams that weren't in the playoffs last year."
For his part, Kovalev said that he was just glad to be back playing again.
"I think that it is not just the first two games, but that I will try to play my best for the whole 82-game schedule, plus playoffs," Kovalev said. "I guess I missed hockey so much from spending almost half of last season out of the game. Right now, I just want to play my best and the way I used to play. I am not really thinking about the surgery I had last year."
Kovalev is making a conscious effort to shoot the puck more this season and said that he learned a few things by watching from the sidelines last year.
"I saw a couple of things, mainly that if you have a good shot you have to use it," Kovalev said. "I realize that I have a quick wrist shot and I have to use it."
Kovalev insisted that he isn't worried about the knee any more.
"I always had confidence," Kovalev said. "It has been 10 months now and I want to come back and play and do exactly the same things I did before. I am not afraid to go to the net. I am not afraid to hit an opponent. All I have to think about is winning the Stanley Cup, not my knee."
As for his new line, Kovalev said, "I never say anything about any players. We have a really good team this year, everybody is playing hard, and it doesn't matter who you are going to play with each game. Just play hard and do your best.
"Right now in the first couple of games, we're just too excited about the season. Sometimes you feel like everybody is going so hard and over-trying because they are so excited about the season. Now we can settle down, start winning on the road and we'll be fine."
Skrudland said he is happy to be on a line with Kovalav.
"I think Bill and I really enjoy playing with Alex," Skrudland said, "And once we really become accustomed to one another and he becomes a little more accustomed to what we are going to do, I think we could become a very effective offensive line and a good solid defensive line.
"I think Coly tries to put us in lot of situations where we'ree going to play against the other team's top offensive line, so shutting them down is completely our main job. But when you've got a guy like Kovalev and even Billy, the way he's skating, we want to make sure we are on the plus side of things at the end of the night."
Skrudland spent the last five years with Florida and recalled that whenver the Panthers were scheduled to play the Rangers, Kovalev was one of the players they paid special attention to.
"We approached Alexei Kovalev with caution," Skrudland said. "You never go running at a guy like that, or charging at him because he's got the capability of beating you one-on-one. If anything, you always like a support guy to be with you. Hopefully, other teams look at it the same way and that Billy and I can make ourselves available for Alex a little more often, because not only is he a great individual player, I think he is a great playmaker and I would like get more involved in the offense with him. I think we will be a good group."
CALGARY --Alexei Kovalev was a burly, aggressive presence at center ice Saturday night throughout the Rangers' 4-1 preseason victory over the Vancouver Canucks. He hit everyone within a 10-foot radius, handled the puck more responsibly than usual and paid some tribute to Mark Messier by copying his off-wing wrist shot from the right circle for a goal in the second period.
"The more ice he got, the more he got into his game," coach Colin Campbell said. "He took it upon himself to be more of a leader. Just by his actions on the bench, we knew he was ready. He's got one of the better wrist shots, and I don't think he gets recognized for it. If he'd just use that wrist shot more often he'd get results. I would say he's in the top five in transporting the puck up the ice, and creating things when he gets over the blue line. He doesn't look bad at center ice."
It's only an experiment for now, but Wayne Gretzky thinks Kovalev has begun to fully realize his importance to the Rangers no matter where he plays.
"He's one of those guys who can just step forward and take more responsibility on and off the ice," Gretzky said. "He's got a great deal of respect from all the players in the locker room. We need Alex to play above and beyond.
"Last year, with him missing all those games (to injury), it made him lick his chops to get back into the lineup. I think he was very disappointed he wasn't part of the playoffs. But he's back and he's back with a vengeance. He's a huge part of our team, no question about it."
Gretzky said he plans to finish his career with the Rangers, and is close to reaching an agreement on a two-year contract extension.
"I love New York and the organization has been great to me," said Gretzky, 36, who signed with the Rangers last year as an unrestricted free agent. "I love the city and basically it's my last stop.
"It's more a question of not wanting to go through a process all year of people asking me what's going to happen next year. I don't want to go anywhere, and the Rangers want me to stay."
Gretzky has one year remaining on his current deal with the Rangers, which will pay him $3.9 million this season. He made $5 million last season.
"We're in a discussion stage right now and we should get things done," Rangers general manager Neil Smith said. "Both sides have the same thing in mind. My emphasis is on having Wayne finish his career in New York. I'd like to structure something with Wayne so he knows this is his last stop."
Backup goaltender Jason Muzzatti played an outstanding game Saturday night and stayed in net for the full 60 minutes, unusual for a goalie in a preseason game.
Canucks sniper Pavel Bure tested him several times, most spectacularly with a laser slap shot from the right circle and then on a breakaway. Bure, one of the best in the league one-on-one with the goalie, was stoned on the initial shot and again on the rebound.
"He's great on breakaways," Muzzatti said. "My only advantage was that he didn't come straight on, and I was able to close my five-hole. I was just lucky enough to get my leg down in the right place. He's tremendously skilled. As a goaltender, you just have to give him the utmost respect on the ice."
The Rangers are still without a captain, but the issue is likely to be resolved before the start of the season. It's assumed Brian Leetch will inherit Messier's title.
"It's got to happen within the next 14 days," Campbell said. "We've been criticized for not naming someone sooner, but it'll be done. There's no slight if it's not done sooner. It's got to be done the right way at the right time and be accorded the esteem that position brings with it. It'll get done."
Campbell's thoughts on Messier's first game against his old teammates -- "I think Mark always played hard no matter who it was against. He always said let me do unto others before they do unto me."
Left winger Sylvain Blouin sprained his right ankle when he was pulled down from behind by Vancouver's Gino Odjick. Blouin will be out three to five days.
NEW YORK -- The Rangers agreed to terms on a new contract with forward Alexei Kovalev, a free agent who suffered a major injury to his right knee last season.
Kovalev, 24, ranked eighth on the Rangers in scoring last season with 13 goals and 22 assists in 45 games. He missed the final 37 contests after he tore ligaments in his knee against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Jan. 9.
The 15th overall pick by the Rangers in the 1991 draft, Kovalev has totaled 93 goals, 122 assists and 403 penalty minutes in 315 career games.
Terms of the contract weren't disclosed.
Страничка Алексея Ковалёва на
сайте "Звёзды с Востока"
21 сентября. Форвард «Монреаля» Алексей Ковалев: 37
удалений за матч? Я не удивлен - "Советский Спорт".
29 августа. Форвард «Монреаля» Алексей Ковалев: Дайте
народу зрелище - Советский Спорт
12 июля. Алексей Ковалев: Гуденау понимает, что он
виноват - Советский Спорт
21 сентября. Форвард «Монреаля» Алексей Ковалев: 37 удалений за матч? Я не удивлен - "Советский Спорт".
29 августа. Форвард «Монреаля» Алексей Ковалев: Дайте народу зрелище - Советский Спорт
12 июля. Алексей Ковалев: Гуденау понимает, что он виноват - Советский Спорт