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Analysis: Kovalev must score to win over Pens

Friday, Feb. 25, 2011

The Penguins employees who offered public praise Thursday about right wing Alex Kovalev were, well, an exclusive group. There was general manager Ray Shero and ...

That's it. That's the list.

A group of players assembled by Shero, all of whom met Kovalev last night upon his arrival at a Raleigh, N.C.-area hotel, privately confided skepticism upon learning of their newest teammate.

Kovalev, whose 38th birthday present was a return to the organization for which he scored 149 regular-season goals from 1998 to 2003, will have to prove his worth to these Penguins. To borrow from one of his new teammates: Which "Kovy" are the Penguins getting?

That is a question worth $5 million — the salary-cap hit absorbed by the Penguins for acquiring Kovalev from the Ottawa Senators for a conditional seventh-round pick at June's NHL draft. That will become a sixth-round selection if the Penguins advance to Round 2 of the Stanley Cup playoffs and Kovalev plays in 50 percent of the first-round games.

"I've been there before and had some good years," Kovalev told Ottawa reporters. "I'm excited to go to Pittsburgh and play in the playoffs again."

Kovalev is a second-time Penguin because this version of the team, riddled with injuries, can no longer score enough goals. Part of that is because they have lost 117 man-games to injury since Jan. 1. They have played the past eight games without centers Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Mark Letestu and left wing Chris Kunitz — who have combined for 75 goals.

The Penguins have scored 43 goals in their past 21 games — all without leading scorer Crosby, who is out indefinitely with concussion symptoms. Their record in those contests is 10-8-3, and they have scored two goals or fewer in 11 of those games.

"Let's be honest: We have 10, 11 and 12 guys out of the lineup," Shero said. "There's no team in the league (whose) offense will come easily."

Shero is taking a low-risk/high-reward bet that offense will come from Kovalev, who is slated to play right wing on a line with center Jordan Staal and left wing James Neal tonight at Carolina.

There are reasons to believe Kovalev will be strong in stint No. 2 with the Penguins. First, he is playing for what could be his last NHL contract; this one will expire after the season.

Also, he has professed a fondness for the organization, talked of a close friendship with majority co-owner Mario Lemieux and produced consistently in the postseason with 44 goals and 98 points in 116 games.

However, Kovalev publicly clashed with Senators coach Cory Clouston, and his reputation is that of an otherworldly skilled player who is as enigmatic as his left-handed shot is powerful.

His tenure of less than two seasons with the Senators followed a run of four-plus years with Montreal, where he was beloved and often brilliant (103 goals in 314 games). That was the case during his previous stint with the Penguins, a team he reportedly never wanted to leave.

Now he is back, and as right wing Bill Guerin did two years ago, Kovalev holds the pen that could write a triumphant comeback story. Guerin was asked to restore calm to the dressing room. Kovalev needs to win over this one.

He can start by scoring some goals.

Additional Information:

New wings are his thing

Penguins general manager Ray Shero has made acquiring wingers near the NHL trade deadline a habit during the past five years. On Thursday, he added right wing Alex Kovalev to a mostly impressive group:

Gary Roberts (acquired Feb. 27, 2007): Scored four goals in 16 playoff games in 2007 and '08.

Georges Laraque (Feb. 27, 2007): Enforcer racked up 159 penalty minutes in 88 games through 2008.

Marian Hossa (Feb. 26, 2008): Scored 12 goals on run to 2008 Stanley Cup Final.

Pascal Dupuis (Feb. 26, 2008): Currently a top-line winger and standout penalty killer.

Chris Kunitz (Feb. 26, 2009): Has 25 points in the past two postseasons.

Bill Guerin (March 4, 2009): Had seven goals and 15 points on 2009 Cup run.

Craig Adams (March 4, 2009): A role-playing regular and trusted penalty killer.

Alexei Ponikarovsky (March 3, 2010): Scored once in 11 games last postseason.

James Neal (Monday): Slated to be left wing on top line with center Jordan Staal and Kovalev.

Source: Penguins media guide




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