The Proof Is In - Andrei Kostitsyn Shouldn't Play With Kovalev
In the 2007-08 season, the Canadiens best line consisted of Alex Kovalev (35-49-84), Tomas Plekanec (29-40-69), and Andrei Kostitsyn (26-27-53). The trio accounted for three of the club's top four goal scorers, and entering the 2008-09 campaign, it was thought that this line was the most likely to be left intact.
Throught the first 25 games of the season, the three players remained together for the most part, being broken up for a string of games, before being united once more. For reasons that could best be explained by the opposition, the trio have rarely shown the same complicity as last season, and have endured many rough stretches, slumps and droughts.
For their part, Kovalev has contributed, but has had his ups and downs, and at one point, went through a stretch of 20 games without a goal. Plekanec has been even more inconsistant, but seems to slowly be rounding back into last season's form. While both have disappointed to some extent, the two still seem to bring the best out of themselves when paired together.
The same could not be said for Kostitsyn, who began the year on the line, before finding a brief fit alongside Saku Koivu and Alex Tanguay. When those two linemates fell to injuries, Kostitsyn was briefly moved to a trio centered by Robert Lang, with Kovalev on the right side. After a few games and negligable results, Sergei Kostitsyn was fitted into to Kovalev's place on the wing, and Andrei has been on a tear ever since.
After 29 games this season, Kostitsyn's spotty play amounted to a mere 6 goals and seven assists. In the last 11 games, he has ten goals and five assists. His strong play began on December 27, with a three goal performance, and it has not let up since. Below is Kostitsyn points from those 11 games:
Penguins December 27: 3 goals
Panthers December 29: 1 assist
Lightning December 30: 0
Devils January 2: 0
Panthers January 4: 2 goals
Rangers January 7: 1 assist
Maple Leafs January 8: 1 goal 2 assists
Capitals January 10: 1 goal 1 assist
Bruins January 13: 1 goal
Predators January 15: 1 goal
Senators January 17: 1 goal
Since he has been on this hot streak, several opinions, my theory include, have pointed to the thought that Kostitsyn plays better without Kovalev, as he is given the puck more often and has benefitted from many more scoring chances. I thought I would take a closer look at where his points have come from this season, both prior to the current streak, and since the Pittsburgh game. Specifically, I sought to see when and where he had actually clicked with Kovalev and the results are vey revealing. Here is a breakdown of all Kostitsyn's goals this season, and who assisted on them.
Kostitsyn Scored From
Game 3 Philadelphia: assist - Markov
Game 16 Blues: assist - Price
Game 19 Boston: assists - Gorges, Kostopoulos
Game 23 Buffalo: unassisted
Game 24 Atlanta: assists - Koivu, Bouillon
Game 25 Rangers: assists - D' Agostini, Markov
Game 34 Pittsburgh: assists - Plekanec, Gorges
Game 34 Pittsburgh: assists - Plekanec, Kovalev
Game 34 Pittsburgh: unassisted
Game 38 Florida: S. Kostitsyn
Game 38 Florida: unassisted
Game 40 Toronto: assists - Lang, Markov
Game 41 Washington: assists - S. Kostitsyn, Brisebois
Game 42 Boston: assists - S. Kostitsyn, Markov
Game 43 Nashville: assists - Markov, Lang
Game 44 Ottawa: Markov, Lang
You will notice that of all of Kostitsyn's 16 goals, Kovalev has had a hand only one - his second goal in the Pittsburgh game. That is quite surprising to say the least. I went to the Canadiens official site to see if it was Plekanec or Kovalev who passed it directly to Andrei for the goal, and it was in fact Plekanec. You can see the goal below.
Incredibly, Kovalev, the team's supposed best passer after Andrei Markov, has not set up the team's top sniper one single time so far.
After discovering this, it made me wonder if the two were connecting at all this season. I looked through all the game summaries posted at the Canadiens official site, and brought up all 12 of Kostitsyn's assists. Here they are:
Kostitsyn Assisted On Goals By (second assist)
Game 3 Philadelphia: goal Hamrlik, (assist Kovalev)
Game 9 Islanders: goal Plekanec, (assist Kovalev)
Game 10 Blue Jackets: goal S. Kostitsyn, (assist Plekanec)
Game 16 Blues: goal Lang
Game 23 Buffalo: goal Markov, (assist Koivu)
Game 24 Atlanta: goal D' Agostini - (assist Koivu)
Game 24 Atlanta: goal Markov, (assist Lang)
Game 35 Florida: goal Kovalev, (assist Markov)
Game 39 Rangers: goal Lang, (assist Markov)
Game 40 Toronto: goal S. Kostitsyn, (assist Brisebois)
Game 40 Toronto: goal Kovalev, assist (Lapierre)
Game 41 Washington: goal Lang, assist (Markov)
Kostitsyn has twice set up goals by Kovalev, and both have come in the last 11 games. Both times, as you can see on the clips below, Kostitsyn fed the puck directly to Kovalev. In the first clip, Tanguay did not score as the announcer claims, the puck in fact when off a defender's skate. The Florida goal was scored on the power play, and the Kovalev goal against Toronto was at even strength.
Now I thought, if Kovalev had only been invloved in one Kostitsyn goal - even if he hadn't passed directly to him - and Andrei had set up Kovalev but two times, there must be some evidence of their complicity on goals by other linemates. Unbelievably, such a thing has only happened twice on goals not scored by either of themselves. It has also not happened since the ninth game of the season.
Game 3 Philadelphia: goal Hamrlik, (assists Kovalev,Kostitsyn)
Game 9 Islanders: goal Plekanec, (assists Kovalev, Kostitsyn)
Here is what those goals looked like:
On the first goal, against the Flyers, Kostitsyn passes to Kovalev, who feeds a rushing Markov heading for the net. The second goal, against the Islanders, does not show the Kovalev pass, only Kostitsyn receiveing it, before passing off to Plekanec. That goal, incidently, is the only such goal all season, in which the three have partcipated in directly.
Now we have seen four clips in which Kovalev has complied with Kostitsyn on the scoresheet. In not one of the four occasions has Kovalev fed Kostitsyn in the offensive zone. That is not to suggest that Kovalev doesn't, just that on not one occasion has it led to a goal.
Just to break it down some more, I wanted to know who best sets up or plays with Kostitsyn. So far this season, 12 different players have assisted on goals by Kostitsyn, and they are Markov (6), Lang (3), S. Kostitsyn (3), Plekanec (2), Gorges (2), Kostopoulos (1), Koivu (1), Bouillon (1), D' Agostini (1), Kovalev (1), Brisebois (1), and Price (1).
Imagine, Carey Price has assisted on as many Kostitsyn goals as Kovalev has. That ought to be shameful. Here is what that goal looked like.
On the flipside, who has Kostitsyn set up goals for, for his 12 assists? That list includes Lang (3), S. Kostitsyn (2), Kovalev (2), Markov (2), Plekanec (1), Hamrlik (1), and D' Agostini (1).
In all, Kostitsyn has been involved in 28 goals as far as the scoresheet is concerned. I thought, for consistency purposes, that it would be telling to break it down even more, just to verify where complicity exists best.
The following listing comprises goals Kostitsyn has either scored or helped set up, and tallies the number of time each individual has been involved in any way. To no surprise, the team's best playmaker, Markov emerges at the top of the list with 11 participations with Kostitsyn on goals, two of which were his own.
Next up is Kostitsyn's current centerman Lang with 7. The two have set each up three times each, with five of those instances coming in the last 11 games. One other time prior to that game span, the pair set up a goal by markov in game 24.
Brother Sergei Kostitsyn has been in on 6, three of which were scored by Sergei and two by Andrei. All five have occurred in past 11 contests.
Plekanec has been involved with Kostitsyn four times, setting him up twice in game 34 when he scored a hat trick.
Kovalev has been invloved with Kostitsyn four time, which has already been gone over. The rest are incidental, are consist of goals scored and assisted by the likes of Gorges (2), D' Agostini (2), Brisebois (2), Lapierre (1), Kostopoulos (1), Koivu (1), Bouillon (1), and Price (1).
Kovalev is currently third in team scoring 12 goals and 21 assists for 33 points after 44 games. Not so long ago, he seemed to be stranded at the five goal mark. He is second on the club to Markov in assists, as he ought to be.
This exercise wasn't done with crucifing Kovalev in mind, but merely to point out that the coherence he once had with Kostitsyn now seems to be gone. Often when Kovalev is examined, it is stated that his use of team mates needs to be given a better thourough understanding. A question he ought to ask himself, is that if everyone seems to be able to set up Kostitsyn of late, why couldn't he?