Kovalev to return to fold after forced exile

CHRIS STEVENSON, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:01 AM ET

MONTREAL -- Well, at least one controversy seems to have been put to bed here.

Amid the swirl of rumours which have engulfed the Canadiens and talk his days with the Habs could be over after a forced, two-game sabbatical, enigmatic star Alexei Kovalev will return to the Canadiens lineup against the Senators this afternoon.

"I feel great. Two days off never hurts," said Kovalev, who was told to stay home and rest by Canadiens GM Bob Gainey when the Habs travelled to Washington and Pittsburgh for games on Wednesday and Thursday. "I was happy to see the guys and they were happy to see me."

Gainey made the decision to tell Kovalev to stay home after the GM thought Kovalev, trying to deal with his struggles on the ice, had retreated into a shell and had become uncommunicative with his teammates and coaching staff.

Gainey said the grind of the schedule -- Kovalev, the MVP for the East at the all-star game at the Bell Centre didn't really benefit from the break -- and the pressure put on Kovalev to make up for the losses of players like Alex Tanguay, Robert Lang and Saku Koivu combined to put Kovalev in a downward spiral.

"At a certain point, he had separated himself from the group," said Gainey. "I don't think it was an abrasive separation. He's a quiet guy into himself and he was not particpating in the social parts of the team at times. He was not communicating verbally with his teammates as much. He was trying to find solutions by himself."

'KIND OF UPSET'

Kovalev at first balked at Gainey's order to take the two games off.

"I was kind of upset and surprised at first. It was hard to swallow. The next morning my mind was fresh and I felt it was the right thing to do," said Kovalev.

Canadiens coach Guy Carbonneau said all he asks is that Kovalev play up to his potential and dismissed talk the two don't get along.

"I've said this before. I've never had problems with Alexei Kovalev. There's was never a fight between me and Alex. I was never upset about the allegations in the article about three years ago. Those were all creations of the media. I'm here to coach an hockey club, not an individual. As long as he does his job, I've never had problems.

"I was surprised like everybody else when Bob took the decision. I was happy when I heard that Alex wanted to stay here and fight for this club and win with this club. Now that Bob has decided to bring him back, I'm happy. We're going to play him (today) and hopefully he can come back and play well for this club, help the club win in the playoffs and hopefully win the Stanley Cup with him."


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