Alex Kovalev’s return to Scotiabank Place was much like his career as a Senator. That is, mostly uneventful.
He did show how badly he wanted to score against his former teammates when his head snapped in disgust after a deflection of a Kris Letang point shot went over the net and the glass.
And Chris Neil did release some of the frustration Ottawa fans had in L’Artiste when he hammered Kovalev into the boards behind the Pittsburgh net (what was he doing there, you ask? No idea.) a few moments later.
But mostly, Kovalev’s first game back in Ottawa since he was deadline-dealt to the Penguins was a fly-by. He was booed, but not intensely, and not all night.
(He played 18:07, with three shots and one assist).
Kovalev always did manoeuvre smoothly around the radar.
Among his many skills he brought to Ottawa was that of a pilot.
“I just want to say how impressed I was with how professional he was,” said Ryan Shannon, who was given a couple of lifts by Kovalev and his small aircraft. “He’s got his checklist. He walked around the plane, checked all the flaps. He flips the switch from hockey player to pilot, and nothing gets in the way of what he’s focused on.”
One time, when the Senators were returning from a short Christmas break, Kovalev was to fly himself and Shannon to Buffalo for a game.
“We were going to leave that morning, but the wind was too bad,” remembered Shannon. “So we get to the airport, and he’s like, ‘I don’t think we can take off.’
“But we had a pre-game skate. We have to be in Buffalo. It was like, okay Kovie, what do we do? He’s like, ‘I don’t know.’ ”
Eventually, they managed to grab a couple of seats on a commercial flight out of LaGuardia.
“We made it OK,” said Shannon, who still laughs at how cool Kovalev was with the situation. “He’s like, ‘I don’t know if we can make it (to the skate).’ I’m like, ‘We have to make it.’ ”
The team wanted more from Kovalev, but the players liked him.
“I heard somebody describe him saying, ‘He might be the most comfortable guy in his own skin they’ve ever met,’ ” said Shannon. “That’s coming from a friend of his.”
He has a lot of them.
The Penguins’ version of the hard hat given to a key contributor in victory is the Kevin Duffy Shovel Award, named after a former security guard at the Mellon Arena who “(had) a quiet, unassuming smile, (and) he exemplified honesty, hard work and integrity.” Upon a quick glance, it looks like goalie Marc-Andre Fleury’s No. 29 is on the shovel most. Penguins coach Dan Bylsma thinks Fleury should be considered a candidate for other awards — namely, the Hart and the Vezina. “He’s been the backbone of our team,” said Bylsma. “There’s been a lot of injuries. We haven’t had a full lineup I think but two games this year. I don’t think without his season, we’re in the position we are, to be within three points of Philadelphia for top spot in the East.” ... When was the last time Neil did his trademark get-up-and-cheer wave to Ottawa fans after a fight? Those visiting The Bank Tuesday saw it after Neil and Deryk Engelland tossed knuckles in the first.
THINGS I THINK I THINK
Don’t tell guys like Colin Greening, Erik Condra, Bobby Butler, Jim O’Brien, Andre Benoit, Frankie Lessard and Curtis McElhinney that just because the Senators are way out of the playoff race, there’s no pressure in the remaining weeks. “Each guy feels almost like he’s on a little bit of a tryout,” said coach Cory Clouston. “The young guys are up here and they’re taking it seriously. They’re not taking it as coming up here with nothing to lose. They’re coming up here with something to gain. They want to try and prove something. Same with the guys who have been here.” ... Brian Lee’s (by two years) younger brother has reached the Final 5 with the University of Denver. John Lee, a Florida Panthers prospect, is also a defenceman. “A mucker and a grinder who likes to hit guys, make a play when he can,” is the scouting report provided by Brian. Who is the better Lee? “I am, if he asks,” said Brian. The siblings never played on the same team, but were competitive at home. “I used to beat the tar out of him at everything,” joked Brian. Because you’re just bigger and better? “And smarter,” he said. “For sure.” ... Jason Spezza had just 12 hits to his credit before Pittsburgh came to town. But he laid a good lick on Matt Cooke in the first period, plastering the pesky Penguin into the side boards.
SILENT TO THE MAX
Without Sidney Crosby around, the popular Maxime Talbot is surely speaking to even larger media scrums that usual. Right, Max? “Just in Canada,” said Talbot, the former Olympiques captain. “I’ve been pretty quiet this year. I’ve haven’t done any stupid declarations or anything yet.”
Talbot reveals that the absence of Crosby, who on Tuesday skated for the second straight day back in Pittsburgh, but then missed his 30th straight game with a concussion, has hurt the Penguins both on and off the ice. “There’s been less media coming to the rink because Sid’s not there,” said Talbot. “That’s something that concerns us. Not much media.”
“We’re familiar with Ottawa. We’ve played them a lot the last year and a half. But not so familiar with all the guys in the lineup.”
— Penguins coach Dan Bylsma. Point noted. Playing Tuesday were only seven Senators (Chris Phillips, Zack Smith, Jesse Winchester, Jason Spezza, Chris Neil, Erik Karlsson and Nick Foligno) who were in the lineup April 24, when the Senators were eliminated by Pascal Dupuis’ goal in the sixth game of Round 1.