Saturday, July 19, 2008

Habs Review 2007-08:

Alexei Kovalev

The numbers

82 GP: 35 G, 49 A, 84 Pts, 70 PIM, +18, 230 Shots

Career best year – 2000-01 – Penguins
79 GP: 44 G, 51 A, 95 Pts, 96 PIM, +12, 307 Shots

2007-08 playoffs
12 GP: 5 G, 6 A, 11 Pts, 8 PIM, -4, 39 Shots

Career best playoffs – 1993-94 - Rangers
23 GP: 9 G, 12 A, 21 Pts, 18 PIM, +5, 71 Shots

Plays of the game: 33

Game pucks: 16

Domes: 50

3 Star selections: 11 First, 9 Second, 9 Third

The story

Where he started the season
After last season, it seemed as if that the majority of fans and media personalities were believing what they heard and were almost instantly jumping to conclusions about certain players without considering all of the facts. Because of this injustice, Alex was starting his 3rd full season in Montreal as a sort of villain. First, there were the reoprts that Alex had been badmouthing the team, coach and possibly other players to hometown reporters in Russia. Then, there were the interviews that we all saw in which Alex questioned certain team decisions that had been made. And, lastly, people thought that Alex had a bad 2006-07.

Many fans (those who watched the games but relied on NHL statistics to tell them what they saw) looked at Alex's 47 points, and, without thinking about anything else, deemed that he had endured a horrible season. What was completely forgotten in the rush to form opinions like these was what had been happening on the ice – his actual play. It is easy to pick up a newspaper the day after the game and call out those players who don't figure in the scoresheet. Watching all 82 games and formulating a distinct opinion about a player based on what you saw, seems to be further out of reach.

Unfortunately the majority of people deemed that Alex had had a bad season and so at the start of this year even Alex himself believed that there was something to prove. One thing that might have helped him right off the bat was that he was re-appointed as a permanent Assistant Captain. During the previous year, he missed out on this honour as Souray and Rivert wore the 'A's. The team was wise to put this added responsibility back on the shoulders of our most talented player. He had (unfortunately) a lot to prove to a city and his team this year, and I think the 'A' helped. Carbo would call him out one last time before the season started which may just have been what pushed him over the edge in the end. When asked if Grabovski and Kostitsyn would be able to get Kovalev going this year, Carbo simply responed by saying, in a fairly aggressive tone, 'how about Kovalev gets those guys going?'. That quote lasted with me all year and I think was again a very wise thing to say concerning the great AK 27.

At Lions in Winter, we too thought about Alex a great deal prior to the start of the season. In fact, Kovalev was the subject of the very first blog entry on this website and our drastically opposing view on him was one of the great impetuses to start writing about the Canadiens and sharing our opinions. Then, there was the Eyes on Kovalev section of the game reports which was brought in as a way to show you what we all meant about Alex. Last year, we had noticed that he had been fantastic most of the season, but because of the lowish point total he was discounted as a top player. What we wanted to achieve was to document each game and in the unlikely case that he put up low numbers again this year we would be able to back up our claims of his excellence with cold, hard facts.
And, to toot our own horn, we were right about Kovalev, while some more knowledgeable experts were led astray by the very same stat watching we were talking about.

The brilliant part about the whole Kovalev situation is that we never needed to belabour our points over the season. Alex let his play, and even his totals this year, do the talking for him.

The season
Alex's season started with a bang as he was putting up numbers at a very impressive rate. Above all of the points was a truly impressive offensive display on a night by night (shift by shift even) basis. Better yet was that he was clicking with Plekanec in ways we had not seen before. 9 games into the year he became the third Hab of the season to play in his 1000th game, which is a truly amazing acheivement in this league. Things were going great for Alex and he looked happier than ever. The fans (the same ones who hated him 1 month earlier) were now all back in love with Alex; so much so, that they even took his side when he called out coach Carbo (the time-out issue) publicly. I was happy for Alex and thought that things couldn't really go much better than they were going.

I was very wrong about one thing concerning Kovy – things could and would go way better. Alex built on his impressive start to deliver the Habs with their first 35-goal and 80-point man in years. Not only were people in Montreal taking notice, but so too was the league. By season's end there were cries for MVP as most people felt he was the biggest reason for Montreal's improbable triumph in the East. He was being mentioned in the same lists as Ovechkin, Kovalchuk and Datsyuk as one of the league's best goalscorers, stickhandlers and overall players.

The best part about Alex's season was that he was there for us every night. I can only remember a handful of games in which he wasn't a factor. He scored goals and got assists at an incredible pace. He was one of the biggest reasons that our PP was so potent all year long as opposing teams just don't know how to handle his insane moves. He was also fantastic on the PK, probably our best forward at killing penalties when I think of it. And, best of all he made Andrei Kostitsyn and Tomas Plekanec into excellent players as they formed one of the top 5 trios in the whole league.

Highlights: Speaks for itself – thank goodness Gainey didn't buckle to the fan pressure from last offseason to dump him

Kovalev by the numbers:

Lions' links on Kovalev:
Alexei Kovalev: The One and Only
Kovalev Koivu Selanne
Trading Kovalev Fallacy
Kovalev spin out
10 Questions
Accolades to Alex
How the Habs keep powering their PP
Eyes on Kovalev on the rise
Force of Nature Kovalev for Hart Consideration – Gretzky
Hart Trophy Follow-up: Offense vs. Defense
Alex Kovalev: The One and Only (Second Use of Headline...)
Experts Share More Wisdom
Round 1: Montreal - Boston: Habs Preview
Sundin: A Move Too Far?

Grade: A+
The season that Alex enjoyed this year will be remembered for a long time. It was a year in which he took his popularity from near rock bottom to the very top of the hockey world. His play just seemed to get better and better each week and his numbers, and subsequent climb up the scoring leaders list, just continued to shock everyone. He scored some of the nicest goals you will ever see, he cemented his spot as one of the world's best passers and lastly showed he is a true leader. During a game in New York, with Saku injured, the unthinkable even happened – Kovy wore the C (not since Saku has had cancer has another player worn the 'C' when he's been absent, so this was a huge deal). But, this was Kovy being given the captaincy by Carbo – what a turn-around! He would end up wearing the 'C' 9 more times as Koivu missed a string of games late in the regular season and in the playoffs due to a broken foot. The team was now really looking up to Kovy as he was not only talking the talk, he was walking the walk.

On a team of so many young players Kovalev's influence and talent was really invaluable – if you need proof just ask the young Europeans what they think of him. He had long been considered one of the league's best players (especially dekers), but I think this season was the year that he expelled any doubt which may have existed in the most skeptical of minds.

Where we'd have him next season
Can Kovy top this season? It would certainly be hard to do so, but I would at least expect more of the same. Yes he had a lot of points this year, but to me this season looked a lot like his two previous years in Montreal. Certain aspects of his game were better this year, but I think as far as effort and heart go they have always, and will always, be there. It is hard to know where Kovalev will play next year, but I really don't think it matters. Whether he plays with Plekanec, one or two of the Kostitsyns or Koivu I would expect the same old from Alex - goals, assists, jaw-dropping moves and the best wrist shot this side of the Volga. He will be one of our best players, will be able to play in all situations and will once again, quite possibly be, the most fun hockey player in the world to watch.

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