Starkey: Bring on Kovalev
By Joe Starkey
, PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Thursday, February 24, 2011
Same old Kovy.
That was the three-word scouting report from a couple of colleagues in Ottawa on Wednesday, but it wasn’t necessarily meant as an insult to aging Senators winger Alex Kovalev. I actually considered it good news for those who want the goal-starved Penguins to rent Kovalev for the rest of the season.
I'm one of them.
We’re talking about a low-risk, potentially high-reward acquisition — and even at his enigmatic worst, Kovalev, who turns 38 on Feb. 24, couldn’t screw up a team in 20 games.
Not that he’d be a guaranteed upgrade if acquired before Monday’s 3 p.m. deadline. Far from it. Kovalev is eminently capable of making another Alex — Ponikarovsky — look like the deadline deal of the decade.
But have you seen this team try to score lately? It's was a horror show last night, even though the Penguins turned in another commendable effort while losing another game and another player. This time it was defenseman Brooks Orpik, who suffered an apparent hand injury early in a 3-2 overtime loss to the San Jose Sharks.
That makes 25 goals in 12 games for the Penguins this month.
We all know the negative connotations of same old Kovy
. He is as maddening as he was when he skated into the league 17 years ago. He can look like Mario Lemieux one night, Nils Ekman the next. He makes coaches miserable (just ask Senators coach Cory Clouston, with whom Kovalev has clashed).
He can break your heart.
He can also bust your system. It’s fair to wonder if Kovalev's style would mesh with that of Penguins coach Dan Bylsma. To put the contrast in swimming parlance, the Penguins prefer the freestyle relay — go straight and get there as quickly as possible — while Kovalev is liable to break into a water follies routine at any moment.
As good as Kovalev was during his Penguins years, he was prone to fits of ineptitude and apathy. The first sign of a relapse would see him mindlessly spinning in the neutral zone. One Penguins observer even dedicated a song to Kovalev, using the lyrics and music from David Bowie's “Space Oddity.”
This is ground control to Kov-a-lev.
The good news is that Kovalev can still play. He can still score. He has half as many goals (six) in his past 10 games as any Penguins player on the ice against San Jose — besides newcomer James Neal — had for the entire season.
Kovalev has nine points in 10 games since the All-Star break. He is taking advantage of increased ice time created by an injury to Daniel Alfredsson, trades, and, perhaps, the Senators’ desire to showcase him and clear his salary (about $1 million the rest of the season).
Same old Kovy
means Kovalev still has those same soft hands and that same cannon shot. It means he can still get around the ice, too, despite surgery to repair a torn ACL last spring. Those who watch him nightly will tell you he has looked progressively more fluid as the season has progressed.
What do the Penguins have to lose? A conditional draft pick? A Bill Guerin-type return sounds right, a pick based on how far the Penguins advance.
No doubt, Kovalev could help on a power play that was especially brutal last night. He could even play the right point, where he flourished during his Pittsburgh incarnation.
I always believed Kovalev’s heart was in the right place, too. He wanted to win. He was just a bit quirky.
Obviously, this team's post-season fate will depend largely on Sidney Crosby's availability, and each day he stays out is a day closer to the Penguins shutting him down. But even if Crosby is shelved with post-concussion issues, these Penguins have a chance to do some playoff damage. They deserve more help.
The worst that can happen is Kovalev crumbles. The best is that he becomes energized by a return to Pittsburgh, a place he adores, and injects some life into a dying offense.
Same old Kovy?
Could be a good thing.