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Kovalev hopes 2000-01 will be breakthrough year offensively
By Dave Molinari, Post-Gazette Sports Writer
Alexei Kovalev has spent eight winters in the NHL, and he has averaged less than 21 goals per season during that time. Scored more than 24 once.
With that kind of consistency, projecting the output the Penguins can
His linemates certainly don't think it is.
It's just that their estimates run a bit higher than precedent suggests would be reasonable. About 40 percent higher.
But neither Robert Lang nor Martin Straka balked at volunteering that
"If he wants to, he can score 40 goals," Straka said. "He's as talented a player as anyone in this league."
"I think his potential could be 40 goals," Lang said. "Not easily, but
That's a plateau only seven players reached last season. But one of them, Penguins right winger Jaromir Jagr, doesn't rule out Kovalev joining that club. Or any other to which he cares to belong.
Kovalev, Jagr said bluntly, is capable of scoring "however many he wants."
Kovalev won't go quite that far but doesn't disagree with those who believe his statistics don't begin to reflect his skill level.
"Sure," he said. "I can score 40 or 50 goals. [People] say that, but the thing is, I have to do it first. It doesn't mean I don't want to do it. I've wanted to do it since I got here. You're not a machine. I know I have a lot of talent, like most people say, but sometimes it's maybe a little bit of luck, a little bit of something."
There certainly are lots of variables -- injuries, how linemates mesh, how the overall team is playing, etc. -- that affect a player's numbers, but raw ability is the most important.
And the guys in the NHL blessed with more than Kovalev could ride to work together in a subcompact and still have plenty of elbow room.
"Not too many players have skills like his," Straka said. "He's got to be one of the best."
Jagr will remind anyone whose asks that he proclaimed Kovalev to be one of the three most talented players he had ever seen when the Penguins acquired him from the New York Rangers in the Petr Nedved trade Nov. 25, 1998.
Considering that Jagr played with Mario Lemieux and against Wayne Gretzky -- and that a fairly gifted guy stares back at him in the mirror every morning -- that was quite a pronouncement. But it's not one Jagr regrets.
"I know a lot of people were surprised I said that," he said. "Now, I think they can understand why I said it."
It has become almost redundant to describe Kovalev as an enigma; far more significant is what might enable him to produce at the pace so many believe is possible.
It still is too early to know how Kovalev will react to the coaching of Ivan Hlinka. While there are some cultural differences between the two -- Kovalev is a Russian, Hlinka a Czech -- Hlinka was a skilled forward, too, and he has earned a reputation as a player's coach, which is why some believe Hlinka's style will help to unlock Kovalev's enormous potential.
"I think he's going to get the best out of Kovy," Straka said.
Kovalev recently came to what he considers a critical realization, although it had nothing to do with coaching. Not directly, anyway. While reflecting upon missed opportunities from last season, he recognized the correlation between practice habits and game production.
"My problem before was that I wasn't trying as hard during the practices to use all those chances [he creates], and that's why I had so many problems during games," he said.
Kovalev does not, however, agree with the idea that he has been too reluctant to put the puck on goal, even though his linemates are among those who believe that way.
"If he could take a shot every now and then instead of [making] the last move, he definitely could score a lot more goals," Lang said.
Kovalev, though, pointed out that he took 254 shots last season, second on the team only to Jagr's 290, and that the quality of shots is more important than the quantity.
"Most people say you have to shoot, but we're [the ones] playing, we're out there on the ice, and we have better [feel] for the situation," Kovalev said. "We know what to do, when to shoot. I want to make those shots be dangerous shots. Not just a shot to warm up the goalie."
Kovalev's exceptional puck-handling skills enable him to weave through
It makes for a breathtaking display but not always a quality scoring chance.
"He might go to the net a little more, probably shoot the puck a little more [instead of trying] to beat three guys, like he wants to," Straka said. "He enjoys beating guys one-on-one. I still think that if he goes to the net more and shoots the puck a little more, does some give-and-go sometimes, he's going to score a lot more points."
The Straka-Lang-Kovalev line has great promise, and it should rank among the best No. 2 lines -- or maybe just the best lines -- in the NHL. And because Lang and Straka are expected to share duties as the defensive forward on that unit, Kovalev should be free to focus on offense.
"Kovy, on that line, will have a lot of chances to bury the puck," Lang said.
If he converts enough of them, Kovalev could have the kind of breakthrough season so many have been expecting for so long.
"Sure, I want to score 40 goals, and I always aim for that," Kovalev
said. "I hope it happens soon, because I'm already 27."
Страничка Алексея Ковалёва на
сайте "Звёзды с Востока"
21 сентября. Форвард «Монреаля» Алексей Ковалев: 37
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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