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13 октября 1999 года.
Kovalev's stickhandling is without peer, but Penguins want more shots 

By Dave Molinari, Post-Gazette Sports Writer  
Alexei Kovalev has never won an NHL scoring championship. Hasn't rung up more than 24 goals during any of his seven winters in North America. Has barely gotten a sniff of a 60-point season, let alone flirted with triple-digits. 

But while Kovalev's career numbers -- 141 goals and 183 assists in 468 games -- don't add up to anything special, he just might be, in some ways, the Penguins' most gifted player. Which, considering that he counts Jaromir Jagr among his teammates, is no small feat. 

"His puck skills are the tops on the team," Coach Kevin Constantine said. "His puck skills -- which would include the ability to stickhandle, make one-on-one moves, the quality of his shot -- he's probably the best we've got." 

That's only one man's opinion, of course, but one with serious credibility. And it's one voiced in almost every corner of the Penguins' locker room. 

"Of anybody in this league, I think he's the best with the puck," center Martin Straka said. "The skills are there. For sure, he's the most skilled player on this team." 

That doesn't mean Kovalev is the Penguins' best player; no one other than a hopelessly biased wife or parent would dare to suggest anyone except Jagr holds that distinction. 

Still, Kovalev is capable of truly remarkable things. Like Friday night, when he beat Colorado goalie Patrick Roy with a wrist shot so hard that even the puck's shadow couldn't keep up. 

"It had some major zip on it," Constantine said. "He's got as good a wrist shot as we've got, for sure." 

Kovalev will get to measure his wrist shot against another pretty fair one, the one belonging to New York Rangers center Petr Nedved, when the Penguins visit Madison Square Garden at 7:38 p.m. tomorrow. 

Those two, of course, were the principals in a high-profile trade between the Penguins and Rangers Nov. 25. 

But while Kovalev spent time in New York during the off-season and maintains friendships with ex-teammates like Brian Leetch and Mike Richter, he insists that the Garden -- his home rink for about six years -- is pretty much just another road arena to him now. 

"I don't care," Kovalev said. "I like to play everywhere. I don't really worry about where I'm going to play or who I'm going to play against." 

To hear Kovalev tell it, he isn't even concerned about who he plays with, let alone against. So while he seems to be a nice fit with Straka and left winger German Titov, Kovalev doesn't dwell on the identity of his linemates. 

"We don't have to worry about who we play with," he said. "Everybody's playing hard. As long as you play hard, it's fine." 

Maybe, but Constantine didn't put those three guys together on a whim. 

"[Kovalev] really is a great scorer, and Tito is a little more of a playmaker than a scorer," he said. "Kovy can do both, but he's got that great shot. Whenever you get a great playmaker like Tito, you're trying to get a goal-scorer with him. And Marty just complements both of them." 

Despite commanding an array of shots that are overpowering and accurate, Kovalev has declined to establish any statistical objectives for this season. Or, at least, to publicly acknowledge them. 

"I don't want to talk about that," he said. "Right now, what I'm worried about is, if the team wins, I'm happy. If the team loses, nobody's happy." 

The Penguins might win more often, however, if Kovalev could come close to matching his playoff production during the regular season. 

He has 21 goals and 30 assists in 54 postseason games, an average of .944 points per game. During the regular season, he averages .692. 

So while defenses almost invariably are more stingy during the playoffs, Kovalev elevates his game to a level that allows him to be more productive in the games that matter most. 

And even though the adrenaline doesn't flow for, say, an early-November game with Tampa Bay the way it does for Game 7 in a playoff series against New Jersey, the Penguins are intrigued by the thought of what Kovalev might be capable of during the regular season. 

"If we can get him halfway toward his playoff performances on a night-to-night basis, he would be -- and we would be -- real excited," Constantine said. 

Kovalev actually has done that, at least on the scoresheet, during the embryonic stages of this season, earning two goals and an assist in three games. 

It probably is no coincidence that he also has taken 12 shots on goal, more than anyone on the Penguins except Jagr, who has 19. That gives him an average of four per game, up considerably from last season, when he averaged 2.48. 

"Maybe he just has to try to shoot a little more, like Yags does," Straka said. "That's the bottom line: If you want to score, you shoot the puck on the net. That's the only thing he's got to do, probably, shoot more." 

Страничка Алексея Ковалёва на сайте "Звёзды с Востока"

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"ЗВЁЗДЫ С ВОСТОКА" @ c 1997 года