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A Thought On Alexei Kovalev’s Slow Start

For the first few games of the regular season, Ottawa’s production from their top two lines has left a lot to be desired. Blame the preseason schedule. Blame Cory Clouston’s inability to dress a number of veterans because of it. Blame poor gap control. Blame a terrible breakout. Blame an ineffecient power play. Or as Alexei Kovalev notes, blame Ottawa’s lack of confidence in controlling the puck.

“The only problem I see in the last two games usually happens at the beginning of the season, where some of the players maybe didn’t play as much in exhibition games,” the 37-year-old forward said.

“When the puck comes in they’re not confident with it. They’re kind of skating away from the puck instead of being hungry for it.

“It almost feels like we’re afraid of the puck, like every time it comes in you start throwing it away somewhere. You know, bad passes and everything else.

“Right now I see we just have no confidence with the puck. We’re pretty much chasing the puck all game.

“The way the game is played, you see the puck and you say, ‘I want that thing. I want to get control of it, and I want to do something with it.'” ~ via The Montreal Gazette

(Ed. note: Imagine if this fear of the puck had affected Ottawa in the faceoff dot where they’ve been killing it to start the season. The team would be in serious trouble.)
For all of Kovalev’s talk about confidence, my confidence in him has waned. When he was brought in, Kovalev was labelled by Bryan Murray and Eugene Melnyk as one of the most entertaining players in the League. To date, he’s been nothing short of frustrating. From the outset, I never questioned his acquisition. As an insurance policy to the imminent Dany Heatley trade, I assumed that he would be able to thrive as a secondary scorer who could take the pressure off of Alfredsson and Spezza. Obviously it hasn’t really worked out well for the Senators. It almost makes me wish that Bruce Gardiner was still around so that he could throw Kovalev into a toilet like one of his sticks. Anything to rekindle the scoring magic that has left him.
It’s like Alexei Kovalev has become the NFL equivalent of Jerry Rice from his Seattle Seahawks playing days. Once Rice’s speed left him, he was no longer able to get the separation necessary to be a big play threat. In turn, he evolved into a short yardage possession receiver with soft hands. Similarly, Kovalev has become a niche player. A power play / shootout specialist whose play has deteriorated so much that he’s a liability at even strength. Kovalev’s inability to create any offense off of the down low cycle is mystifying. Blame the summer’s ACL surgery. Blame his work ethic. Whatever. The fact remains that where once stood a dynamic and fluid player lies the shell of the player that he used to be. Things are so bad that they can’t even put the guy in the position to succeed. Despite a struggling power play power play, Cory Clouston has insisted upon using Kovalev exclusively on the second power play unit. Away from that other Russian free agent signing who was brought in to fix matters and wake Kovalev up.
As I sit here and reflect upon the Kovalev signing, I can’t help but look at the bigger picture: How is it that Ottawa’s current management team can do such a good job of replenishing the system through the amateur ranks but fail so miserably in regards to bringing in NHL-ready talent? It’s mind-boggling that the same management group that drafted Erik Karlsson, Patrick Wiercioch, Zach Smith and Andre Petersson with their first four picks in 2008 is the same collective who have yet to win a trade outright.
It’s such a love-hate relationship that I have with Bryan Murray’s team, so I can only imagine how much lack of faith that the casual fan has for the organization. Perhaps it’s the reason why there are more than 4,000 tickets available for Thursday night’s game against Carolina.
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