Kovy comes back to town... sorta...

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Alex Kovalev was back in Montreal yesterday, promoting the launch of his Off-Ice Training DVD.

Is it just me, or is it amusing that Kovalev, now a member of the Ottawa Senators, decides to promote his DVD in this city, instead of promoting it in Ottawa, where Eugene Melnyk has forked over $10 million over two years so that Kovalev can play on the Senators' top lines?

Kovalev will be the first person to tell you that Montreal was probably his favorite city to play in. The relationship between the aging Russian star in this city has always been one of love-hate, but there is no doubt in anyone's mind that Kovalev was probably the most exciting player to put on the bleu-blanc-et-rouge since Guy Lafleur (disclaimer: I didn't say he was as good as Guy Lafleur... but as exciting, you can't deny that...). The fans of the Canadiens knew that Kovalev could be the most exciting player in the league, and Kovalev appreciated that. In Montreal, he was a star, and he knew it.

"From the day I came to Montreal (from the Rangers in 2004), from my first shift to my last, you can't have a better life or experience. You can't really describe it."

That quote from one of yesterday's promotional events pretty much says it all, despite the fact that things changed for Kovalev last July. After a series of events that we won't get into today, Kovalev ended up an Ottawa Senator. And anyone who knows his style, who has seen him play for an extended period of time in Montreal, knows that he misses Montreal, just by looking at his stats. His 4 goals and 10 assists through 25 games are good enough for 5th place amongst the Senators scorers, but it puts him on pace for a measily 44 points in 77 games. That would be the worst season of his 16 year career.

Despite how baddly he's played this season, he's certain to pick it up a notch against the Habs. In his only game in Montreal this year, he has a goal and an assist. Tonight, the game is in Ottawa, but that won't change anything for Kovalev, especially knowing that there are certain to be a few Habs fans who will make the 2 hour drive to Kanata. Kovalev will also be looking to extend a 3-game point streak tonight, which should also motivate him.

And while the Sens currently sit in 7th spot in the East, owner Eugene Melnyk, no stranger to the microphone, recently called out his elite players (that includes Kovalev) to produce more, play better, and step up to be the leaders of a team which the most offensive depth it's had in years. Melnyk knows this team can be better than the 1-3-1 record they have to show for on their latest road trip.

So while Kovalev may naturally be the center of attention today, Jason Spezza, Daniel Alfreddson, Mike Fisher and the rest of Ottawa's offensive weapons will also be looking to respond to Melnyk's statements tonight.

All of this sets up a game which is certain to be more exciting than last night's 3-1 snoozefest between the Habs and the Flyers. I almost don't feel like writing about it, seeing as I'd probably fall asleep just thinking about it.

How boring was it? The teams combined for a total of 28 shots (13 from the Canadiens), a franchise low for the Canadiens. The first period saw 4 Flyers shots to the Habs 1. Both teams were aware of their deficiencies and shut things down defensively (Roman Hamrlik earning a deserved 1st start in the process), but in the end, the Canadiens had the Flyers' number, thanks to a lucky goal from Andrei Kostitsyn, a goal from Cammalleri (after a sweet pass from Maxim Lapierre), his 4th in two games, and a blazing slap shot from Bergeron on the power-play to put it in the books.

That's Jacques Martin hockey for you.

Either way, expect the Habs to come out with a little more energy tonight and try to put it away early.

FINAL PREDICTION: Habs 3 - Sens 2 SO

NOTES:

A few changes for the Habs, on their 4th game in 6 days.

Jaroslav Halak gets the start in goal, which is expected in a back-to-back situation.

Paul Mara left last night's game with an upper body injury and didn't accompany the team to Ottawa. Tom Pyatt comes into the line-up, Marc-Andre Bergeron takes Mara's spot on defense.

Martin gave the Canadiens the morning off, so no other line-up notes for now, but expect things to stay as status quo as possible beyond the above.

STATS:

-- HABS SABRES
Goals: Cammalleri (16) Michalek(15)
Assists: Plekanec (22) Alfredsson(18)
Points: Plekanec (28) Alfredsson(27)
Pluys/Minus: Cammalleri (+11) Foligno(+7)
Time on Ice: Hamrlik (24:41 per game) Kuba(24:27 per game)
PIMs: Mara(44) Carkner(81)
Shots: Cammalleri(103) Fisher(88)
SVP: Price (.913) Leclaire (.901)
GAA: Price (2.69) Leclaire (2.71)
Wins: Price (9) Leclaire (8 )
Injuries: Markov (ankle, early January)
Gionta (foot, week-to-week)
Pouliot (wrist, day-to-day)
Mara (upper body, day-to-day
Picard (upper body, day-to-day)
Neil (knee, end of December)
Leclaire (broken face, mid-December)
Donovan (Knee, week-to-week)
Last 10: 5-3-2 5-4-1
Standings: 14-14-2, 9th, 30points 14-10-4, 7th, 32 points
GF/GA: 76GF, 28th / 87GA, 18th 83GF, 12th / 87GA, 23rd
PP/PK %: 16.8%, 24th / 81.8%, 13th 18.8%, 20th / 82.4%, 12th



LINKS:

- Dave Stubbs on the ''Enigmatic Russian'' - Montreal Gazette
- Steve Kerley on the Sens. - Habs Inside/Out
- RDS Game story. - (French)
- Corus Sports game story. - (French)
- Brendan Witt pulls a Clint Eastwood.
- TSN game story.

Enjoy the game,

Prax
www.thecheckingline.com
www.twitter.com/thecheckingline

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