Revived Kovalev, Canadiens take on smoking Canucks
Alex Kovalev made a successful return to the Montreal Canadiens following a two-game hiatus as punishment for his listless play.
The winger hopes his comeback continues when his Canadiens host the red-hot Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday night (7:30 p.m. ET) at the Bell Centre.
During Montreal's six-game road trip, Kovalev managed just two assists in the team's first four games. Canadiens general manager Bob Gainey had seen enough, informing Kovalev he would not make the trip to Washington or Pittsburgh.
The time off seemed to rejuvenate the forward.
With Montreal entertaining the Ottawa Senators on Saturday, Kovalev scored his first goal in 11 games while adding a pair of assists to lead the Habs to a 5-3 victory over their Northeast rivals. The victory snapped a three-game losing streak.
'I have that hankering to play': Kovalev
Despite his struggles, Kovalev received a warm welcome from the Bell Centre crowd.
"It's nice when you come back and get that much support," said the Russian native, who has 14 goals and 28 assists in 58 games this season. "I didn't know what to expect. … But I'm a different person now. I have that hankering to play.
"The most important thing was that I was able to get the bad thoughts out of my mind that have been building up all year. You try different things and nothing works, and then you get confused, but in the last few days I've been able to clear my mind."
Goaltending continues to be a problem for Montreal (31-22-7), which has only won three of its last 11 games.
Netminder Carey Price is 0-3-1 with a 4.91 goals-against average in his last four starts. The Canadiens did get a solid start from backup Jaroslav Halak on Saturday against Ottawa, stopping 44 shots in the win.
The Canucks, meanwhile, have shot up the Western Conference standings with some stellar all-round play.
After going winless in the final eight January games, Vancouver (30-21-8) has won eight of its last nine contests, including the last four.
Thanks for the memories, ex-Leaf Sundin says
The team has closed the gap on the first-place Calgary Flames in the Northwest division, sitting eight points behind its West foes.
Mats Sundin put the finishing touches on the Canucks' lastest victory, a 3-2 shootout win over his former team, the Toronto Maple Leafs, on Saturday night at the Air Canada Centre.
Trailing Toronto late in the third period, Alex Burrows netted the tying marker with four minutes remaining.
Sundin, Toronto's longtime former captain, then scored the winner in the shootout, beating goaltender Vesa Toskala with his signature backhand.
"I have a lot of memories with a lot of the guys," said Sundin, who received a standing ovation during a break in the first period. "But it's kind of nice to have it over with now."
The Canucks earned a 4-2 victory over Montreal in the first meeting, on Feb 15. Daniel and Henrik Sedin each notched a goal and an assist, while goalie Roberto Luongo made 25 saves.
Luongo continues to dominate Montreal, holding a 6-1-2 record with a 1.97 GAA against the Canadiens since 2003.
With files from the Associated Press