Реклама в Интернет * Все Кулички
|22 января 2013 года.
Kovalev returns; Former Senator remains an enigma, but Panthers see something in talented forward // The Ottawa Citizen
After his dreadful, disappointing two seasons as a member of the Ottawa Senators, few hockey fans seriously imagined Alex Kovalev would ever return to the National Hockey League.
Even Kovalev himself figured it was all over.
"There was a really low percentage that I thought I would be back, but I worked hard for it," said Kovalev, comfortably holding court in the Florida Panthers dressing room before the Senators' home opener Monday. "I still love this game, I enjoy being on the ice."
Amid all the other storylines on display Monday - including the home debut of Erik Karlsson's new partner, Marc Methot, and the return of his old defence mate, Filip Kuba - Kovalev's presence in the building was the most intriguing development.
Shockingly, Kovalev found himself near the top of the NHL scoring race following Florida's season opener, scoring one goal and two assists in a 5-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes Saturday, looking at home alongside young line-mates Jonathan Huberdeau and Peter Mueller. Huber-deau hadn't been born when Kovalev - now a month shy of 40 - made his NHL debut with the New York Rangers.
When the Panthers offered Kovalev a tryout after the lockout ended, it seemed like a long-shot.
As naturally gifted as Kovalev has been during a career that includes 1,304 games, he appeared to be more trouble than he was worth. With a long history of clashes with coaches behind him, it hardly seemed like an ideal fit.
Kovalev hadn't played anywhere during the lockout and played a mere 22 games with Moscow Oblast Atlant of the Kontinental Hockey League in 2011-12, scoring one goal and five assists.
On top of that, his two-year tenure with the Senators was marked by inconsistency, extended periods of floating and a year-long feud with former coach Cory Clouston. Kovalev failed to live up to the expectations of his two-year, $10-million contract - he had 14 goals and 13 assists in 54 games with the Senators in 2010-11, before being traded to Pittsburgh - never coming close to the production of Dany Heatley, the player he was brought in to replace.
The way Kovalev spun it Monday, Clouston's relationship with veteran players was to blame.
"He is a coach that had a lot to learn," said Kovalev. "He achieved a lot (in junior), but he has a lot to learn. We had a lot of players who had been in the league for a long period of time. It's not an easy job to do. It sometimes works, sometimes not, but the main idea for me ... (with Mike) Keenan and all those experienced coaches, it's about their communication with players, coming to players and telling them what it is, how they have to play."
There's something to that - defenceman Sergei Gonchar never adapted to Clouston's hard edge, but rebounded last season under Paul MacLean - but then again, Kovalev's on-again, off-again motivation forced countless other coaches to throw their arms up in frustration throughout his career.
Panthers coach Kevin Dineen knew the background, but he says Kovalev looks fresh in the second coming of his NHL career.
"He has been great, right from the first day of training camp, extremely professional and he worked really hard without a contract," said Dineen.
Dineen says Kovalev arrived in tip-top shape following workouts in New York, and when camp ended he was rewarded with a one-year, $1.3-million contract.
His natural abilities have never been questioned. Senators captain Daniel Al-fredsson says Kovalev is the most talented player the Senators have ever had.
"After playing with Kovy, nothing he does will ever surprise you," said Jason Spe-zza. "He's a really talented guy who can work magic out there. I can't say I'm surprised (by his quick start)."
But can it really last? Will the new Kovalev be any different from the guy who has played in fits and starts for the past two decades, causing such distress among NHL coaches?
For what it's worth, Kovalev says he has felt refreshed by being back in NHL arenas, taking time to take it all in.
"I have nothing to prove, but I'm just enjoying that feeling of winning and hopefully, we can be a part of the playoffs and compete for the Stanley Cup again. There's still motivation, there's still something I'm looking forward to."