While Alex Kovalev was exiled to the home front this week, we were treated to endless stream of media spin with most agreeing that the No. 27 sweater would soon be available for the newly-arrived Mathieu Schneider.
Either Kovalev had already been traded or would soon be sent packing. Consensus was that Alex had played his final game in Montreal.
The press called Kovalev a humiliated man. Alex didn't react. Even after the French press created covert Russian sources and fictitious quotes, Kovy didn't take the bait. He simply contacted Darren Dreger at TSN and discredited the story.
Some are crediting Bob Gainey's action for properly motivating Kovalev. Gainey's "work first, talent second" message seems to have hit home.
But an under-reported part of the story is that Bob Gainey agreed to deliver Kovalev's concerns to the coach. Gainey confirmed that he did. Perhaps it was the key.
Rather than acting as a disciplinarian, Bob Gainey was a mediator between two parties who have limited communication.
Many Canadiens players have complained about a lack of communication from the coach. The most recent was Steve Begin. Perhaps Elliotte Freidman is correct when reporting that Guy Carbonneau just doesn't understand his team.
So what message did Bob Gainey deliver to his friend Guy on behalf of Alex? We don't know. But a few days ago, I examined the factors that contributed to a successful Alex Kovalev. Kovalev is THE problem...isn't he??
They are: compatible linemates, ice time, and a successful power-play. (Alex scores approximately 50 percent of his points on the power-play.)
Today, Kovy was reunited with Plekanec and Andrei Kostitsyn. He had more ice time than Max Lapierre for the first time in many games. Alex had three points with two coming via the power-play.
I would suggest that the "winning formula" has been available all season. A stubborn coach refused to implement it, and an equally stubborn player decided to protest until he got it.
Today, the winner of this battle was declared. He was the first star of the game and the man whose named was chanted by the Bell Centre faithful.
When asked about his return to the Canadiens, Kovalev replied “I feel like I’ve just been traded to a new team.”
A linemate of Kovalev was another player who had not experienced a pleasant few days. Despite exaggeration and sensationalism by the media, Andrei Kostitsyn played well, not showing any ill effects.
Tomas Plekanec continued his strong play with a goal and dominance at the faceoff dot. Both Plekanec and Kovalev were superb on penalty-killing duty.
Other Canadiens' forwards who had strong efforts were Chris Higgins, Saku Koivu and Max Pacioretty. Pacioretty played with maturity and delivered several solid hits. The only question is why did he only have 9:29 ice time?
Andrei Markov and Roman Hamrlik were the stars on defense. Mike Komisarek took care of traffic in front of the net particularly when penalty killing. Josh Gorges deserves special mention for coming to the aid of teammate Kyle Chipchura when he was elbowed in the head by Shean Donovan.
While Patrice Brisebois scored a power-play goal, he was directly responsible for an Ottawa goal only 53 seconds later. Mathieu Schneider played much better as his ice-time was managed. Schneider's power-play goal was a rocket from the point.
Just as in the Washington game, the Canadiens excelled due to a strong forecheck, quick breakouts and an effective power-play. When the coaches abandoned the forecheck in the third period, the Senators outshot the Canadiens 22-4.
Jaroslav Halak wasn't challenged often in the first two periods and when he was, he looked shaky. Ottawa took advantage for their first two goals.
In the third period, Jaro had to make several key saves to preserve the win. Halak continues to struggle with rebound control thereby inflating the shot totals.
After the game, Guy Carbonneau mused about other Canadiens taking time off. Many Habs fans are looking forward to Carbo announcing the dates of his vacation.
Guy Carbonneau confirmed that Francis Bouillon has a groin tear. Bouillon will be re-evaluated in two weeks. He is expected to miss 2-4 weeks.
The Canadiens wore their road white sweaters for this home game.
Starting lineup: Lapierre, Kostopoulos, Pacioretty, Hamrlik, Komisarek
Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliot started in goal.
Alex Kovalev returned to the lineup with the 'A' on his sweater.
Alfredsson played with a full shield to protect his broken jaw.
Laraque and Begin scratched. Bouillon, Latendresse, Tanguay, and Lang were out with injuries.
Rocket's 3 stars:
1. Alex Kovalev
2. Tomas Plekanec
3. Dany Heatley
(photo credit: AP)