Kovalev's Weight Of The World Could Be Removed By Becoming A Better Team Player
A dozen or so games into this 2008-09 season, everything appeared to be peachy in the world of Alex Kovalev. Producing at just under a point per game, Kovalev was creating excitement each time he played the puck.
Now mired in a 16 game goalless drought, exitement has turned to excrement, and the world is now weighing on his shoulders.
The word enigmatic will always find its way into a description of Kovalev. He can surprise when it is least expected, or vanish when most counted upon. As a living paradox, he can both tantalize and frustrate in a single shift. He lives thinking outside the box, playing a sport that requires him to act as a team player. At his best, he can literally make a fan feel the living, breathing game that is hockey. At his most seemingly indifferent, it can actually hurt to watch him ply his trade.
After his dismal and disillusioned 2006-07 season, I would have been pleased to see GM Bob Gainey send Kovalev swimming with a brick. He'd gone through the most brutal of time, nothing worked for him.
A proud man, Kovalev rededicated himself, and produced the second best season of his career statistically in 2007-08. A rebirth it was termed, as many fans and onlookers felt that they had gained inside access into Kovalev's heart and mind, moreso through his opening up to fans and media than via what his performances on the ice spoke of himself.
For myself, I found that I learned to like and appreciate the player more, after having gained that view into his hockey soul. Much of what was previously mysterious about the man came full circle into a composite human being, a picture almost complete.
I was ready to forgive Kovalev's past sins, and if he would be able to produce another season remotely similar, I'd even say I could begin to trust in him.
Round about when training camp shut down, Kovalev dropped a quote I've long been a sucker for. Coming off a campaign where he clearly felt the love of fans, he explained that he would love to play in Montreal until he was 50. I like those kind of quotes, adding up the team concept, to dedication, and long term thoughts. It felt like words spoken through a heart and not a wallet.
I still sincerely believe he meant every word. In a contract season, such a statement can only have put pressure on himself to perform at his highest of standards. Anyone having seen clips of his training methods DVD knows that Kovalev is unique perfectionist striving for the best from himself.
Throughout his career, Kovalev has spent endless extra hours perfecting his individual skills, drills, and nuances. While his individual skills pursuits have gone a long way towards creating the player he is, it may also serve to show what practice has made imperfect.
Kovalev, who cares very much about team things, practices his game and skills singularly. If you own it, you'll notice in his DVD that opponants and team mates are absent from his routine, yet on the ice, nine others, for and against, work against his perfections working. That just might be the heart of his current problems right there. Either that, or 600 NHL'er own his DVD!
Often termed an artist on ice, Kovalev too often paints a redundant scene. I've mentioned the analogy before, but more and more, I believe that Kovalev ought to chuck all of his fine brush strokes and sweeps, and employ a roller to recereate his canvass at times.
In employing harder strides, straight lines, and swifter passes, he would be bringing team mates back to his level of play, enabling himself to better use them for his own purposes. Such thinking would serve all his goals in a better way.
Last night, Kovalev took a selfish penalty in frustration that cost the Canadiens a chance to win the game. The saddest fact of it was that it came as no surprise, almost. Kovalev, the player who excitedly, and exaggeratedly proclaimed he'd love to play until 50 years of age, has resembled a player exactly that age, well past his prime.
Inside his hockey heart, Kovalev's current slump surely has to be eating at him,gnawing at his confidence one failure at a time. If you can recall how stiffled Guy Lafleur looked to be under Jacques Lemaire's constricting defensive system in 1984, you might be able to tap into Kovalev's current state of mind.
He longs to see the club do well and win, to bring fans from their seats chanting his name, and make a contribution to the club. His high standards, however misguided they seem at times, demand nothing less of himself.
Kovalev has alot of good hockey left in him. You can see it. What he needs to focus on most at this time is that he can no longer do it singularly.
What he needs to learn now, is that the pieces to his puzzle are the team mates that surround him.