Kovalev given 'time off' by Habs

Habs general manager Bob Gainey said Tuesday that he met with Alex Kovalev, and told the winger he won't be on the team's trip to Washington on Wednesday and Pittsburgh on Thursday.

O'Byrne, Sergei Kostitsyn to minors

Winger Alex Kovalev won't be joining the Montreal Canadiens on their two-game road trip this week. But he isn't hurt.

Habs general manager Bob Gainey said Tuesday that he met with Kovalev, and told him he won't be with the team in Washington on Wednesday and Pittsburgh on Thursday.

His status for Saturday's game against Ottawa on Hockey Day in Canada isn't known.

Gainey said that Kovalev hasn't been playing well of late and appears to be tired. He also said that this wasn't a team suspension.

"It isn't a normal decision or player movement that we would make," admitted Gainey.

"I felt in the games that I watched, in my discussions with the coaching staff, [and] my understanding of Alex … it was my suggestion based on those things, for him to just to relax for a couple of days — stay away from the team and we'll evaluate over that period of time, and make decisions accordingly.

Kovalev has struggled this season. He has 13 goals and 26 assists in 57 games. This after a stellar 2007-08 performance, where he had 35 goals and 49 assists for 84 points.

"He was not in direct agreement with me, but at the same time I think he felt that he could trust me enough that my decision, my request … could be something positive for him, [and] positive for the team," said Gainey.

Gainey said no teams had contacted him about Kovalev, an unrestricted free agent this summer. 

On Monday, Montreal sent a pair of draft picks to Atlanta in exchange for veteran defenceman Mathieu Schneider, who practised with the team Tuesday in a defensive pairing with Andrei Markov.

Schneider, who played on Montreal's last Stanley Cup team during a tenure that lasted from 1988 to 1994, is expected to provide a boost for a struggling power play.

"The one thing I do is shoot," said Schneider. "I get my shots every night. I think when your power play is struggling, the best thing to do you can do is get pucks on the net. That's been my bread and butter the last 10 or 15 years."

The Canadiens sent two players to their AHL affiliate in Hamilton — winger Sergei Kostitsyn and defenceman Ryan O'Byrne. The club recalled physical forward Gregory Stewart.

With files from the Canadian Press