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Saturday, February 21, 2009
Kovalev could bounce back for Montreal

It would be a modest understatement to say the Canadiens have not had a good time of it in recent days. Their best player was called out, shamed publicly, and told his presence wasn't welcome for two games. Three others were exposed as alleged buddies of a man linked to outlaw activity. On the ice, the team lost two more games to push its recent record to 3-11-1. And while the Montreal press dissected, exploited and regurgitated every last tidbit, Habs fans wailed and howled in the streets. Not a good week. But now it's over -- rock bottom has seemingly been hit -- and it's time to get back to the business of winning hockey games. This is where the Canadiens, almost to a man, turn things around. And it starts with their star.

Some are still questioning Bob Gainey's chosen tactic of telling Alexei Kovalev to stay home this week and figure things out, calling it a huge risk. But if anyone knows how to handle the ever-perplexing Kovalev, it's the Canadiens' GM. It was only within the past couple of years, before the 2007-08 season, that Gainey and Kovalev took that famous stroll along Montreal's waterfront. At that time, the GM hinted to his star player, brilliantly in retrospect, that he may be too old to put up the numbers anymore but could still contribute to the team in other ways. And the player's own agent echoed those sentiments. Kovalev, predictably offended and subsequently fired up, stubbornly went on to score 84 points in 82 games, carrying the team to the playoffs.

You can expect similar results this time around. Kovalev participated in Friday's practice and will play in Saturday's afternoon tilt against Ottawa. In speaking to reporters, he was dually chastened and determined. The guy really does want to play better, and he has the skills. So watch him shine in the next few games. If you're a Kovalev owner, it's worth the risk to activate him immediately, especially if you believe Mr. Gainey knows how, and when, to administer an effective kick in the pants. And history supports the claim he does.

As for reports that Andrei Kostitsyn, Sergei Kostitsyn and Roman Hamrlik hung around a man (Pasquale Mangiola) recently arrested on criminal charges (conspiracy and drug-related), don't pay it too much mind. When football players are bringing handguns into public places and baseball players are lying to Congress, this stuff is small potatoes. Not to make light of criminal activity -- surely the charges against Mangiola are quite serious -- but the three players aren't actually linked to anything illegal. That much is clear. As far as reports go, neither Hamrlik nor the Kostitsyn brothers broke the law, so this should blow over shortly. Besides, from a fantasy perspective, only Andrei carries any real value. And since he is Kovalev's linemate (they practiced together Friday), his production should increase in the next little while as well, at even strength and on the power play.

Ice chips

Mike Comrie was traded from the Islanders to the Senators on Friday, along with defenseman Chris Campoli. Ottawa gave up Dean McAmmond and a first-round draft pick in return. With only 20 points on the year, Comrie could see a bump in production -- depending on what line he skates on -- but don't expect serious scoring fireworks in any case. … Ty Conklin's stock couldn't be higher in Detroit as Chris Osgood is getting some time off. Giving him a chance to "work on his game," the Red Wings don't plan to start Osgood in net until March 3 at the earliest. Conklin will be the go-to guy for the most part, and outside of one comical error that allowed a late goal, the netminder played extremely well in the Wings' 5-2 victory over Anaheim. To give Conklin a rest, Jimmy Howard will start his first game of the season Saturday against Minnesota. Before there's a mad scramble to pick up young Jimmy, keep in mind he'll be sent right back down to his AHL team in Grand Rapids on Sunday. … Paul Stastny did not return to Colorado's lineup on Friday as some had hoped, but the Avalanche didn't actually need him. Ryan Smyth scored a goal and earned two assists in the 4-1 win over Washington. Andrew Raycroft was almost perfect in net, allowing the single goal on 29 shots. Raycroft has won three in a row, making fellow Colorado goalie Peter Budaj less relevant these days. … Joe Corvo broke out of a scoring slump, netting two goals as Carolina beat Tampa Bay 4-1.