Montreal Canadiens' Power Play Misses Alex Kovalev Dearly
For three seasons, between 2005-06 to 2007-08, the Montreal Canadiens were the owners of one the best power plays in the National Hockey League, ranking fifth in 2005-06, and fist in 2006-07 and 2007-08.
With Andrei Markov, Sheldon Souray, and later on Mark Streit, the Habs were never short of top-flight offensive defensemen during the man advantage.
Add in quality forwards such as Saku Koivu, Mike Ribeiro, Michael Ryder, Alex Kovalev, Chris Higgins, and many more, you have the makings of a dominant power play.
Out of all those names, the one that stands out the most is the name of the best puck-handler in the NHL, Alexei Kovalev. With an outstanding wrist shot from the right faceoff circle, dazzling hands, and great vision, you have one of the most dangerous players in the league on the man advantage.
The native of Togliatti, Russia, has made a name for himself with those attributes, and he was adored by the Montreal crowd, and fittingly dubbed "L'Artiste" (The Artist) by the Habs faithful.
However, any team with Kovalev on the roster must deal with the personal baggage that he brings with him.
Often described as moody, "Kovy" seems to pick his games on the calendar, and his inconsistency is best summed up as maddening. When consistent, he is a top-flight player that can hurt any team, any way he likes. Kovalev is also a great playoff performer, tallying 21 points in 17 games while in Montreal.
He also brought an intangible that was priceless to the power play: creativity.
Kovalev was menacing in so many ways with the extra attacker, l'Artiste kept the opposition on their toes, never quite knowing what he would do, or when he would do it.
This year, while the Habs have a great fist line, consisting of Mike Cammalleri, Scott Gomez, and Brian Gionta, these players are nowhere near as creative as Kovalev.
While they are all dangerous, they all fit a specific mold, and for penalty killers, it is easier to shut them down as they all only have one dimension, Gionta and Cammalleri being the goal-scorers, and Gomez being the play-maker.
Also, the Habs are missing power play quarterback Andrei Markov, so the end result of all this is a 14.5 percent success rate through 18 games, ranked 25th in the league. That's a long way from the 23.7 percent success rate, ranked first in the league, in 2007-08.
There are many factors for this significant drop off in success, but the biggest blow to the Montreal power play will prove to be the loss of Alex Kovalev.
Watching another abysmal showing by the power play tonight against Calgary, I yearn for the days when the Bell Centre crowd would chant, "Kovy, Kovy, Kovy!"
Alas, those days are gone, and now I must cringe as I watch Kovalev light up P.K units around the league, and to my chagrin, not wearing a Montreal Canadiens sweater while doing so.
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