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Montreal Canadiens forward Alex Kovalev not worried about slump

MONTREAL - Alex Kovalev is in a slump, but he has plenty of company on the Montreal Canadiens these days.

The veteran right-winger, who led the team with 35 goals in 2007-08, has only five goals in Montreal's first 23 games this season. He hasn't scored since Nov. 1, a span of 13 games.

"I'm not worried about it," Kovalev said Monday. "I'm glad it happens early in the season because I know I'm going to recover, and once they start going in, they'll go in in bunches.

"So you keep working on it. It's happened in the past and it isn't the worst thing that can happen to you."

If he was alone in his scoring woes, coach Guy Carbonneau would be a better mood. But a handful of the players he counts on for goals are not finding the net.

Tomas Plekanec, Kovalev's usual centre, has one goal in his last 11 games. Saku Koivu has one in his last nine, Christopher Higgins has one in 10 and Alex Tanguay had one in 10 games before missing the last two with a neck injury.

Sergei Kostitsyn has gone 12 games without a goal and put himself in Carbonneau's doghouse during Saturday night's 3-2 win over Buffalo by taking three minor penalties.

There has even been speculation that the younger of the two Kostitsyn brothers on the team may be headed for a stint in the minors, particularly since winger Matt d'Agostini had a decent first NHL game of the season after he was called up on Friday.

When asked about Kostitsyn, Carbonneau said: "He has to realize he's only been here two years. He acts like he's been here for 10."

It seemed like everyone was scoring when the Canadiens began the season 8-1-1, but then it stopped as they went 5-5-3 in their next 13.

Of late, it has been the grinders providing the goals. Fourth-line checkers Maxim Lapierre and Steve Begin each have scored twice in the last four games.

"Everyone wants to score goals, but hockey's a tough game," said Begin. "There are ups and downs and right now maybe there's a few guys having downs, but I know they'll all come back and play good for us."

After a 3-0 loss in Washington on Friday, Carbonneau mixed up his lines, placing Lapierre between Andrei and Sergei Kostitsyn, Begin with Plekanec and Tom Kostopoulos, while Kovalev played with Robert Lang and Guillaume Latendresse.

Andrei Kostitsyn had one of his best games of the year with a goal and an assist, while Begin also scored.

Scoring has been notably absent on the power play. The Canadiens led the league with the man advantage the last two seasons, but thus far, they are 24th in the 30-team league with a 14.4 per cent success rate.

The Canadiens went 0-for-6 against the Sabres, including a full two minutes with a two-man advantage.

They hope to get back on track Tuesday night at home against the Atlanta Thrashers, who have the league's worst penalty killing at 73.8 per cent.

Kovalev has been particularly quiet with only one power-play goal for the season.

"Sometimes it's lack of decision-making," said Kovalev, who had 17 power play goals last season. "Last year, it was perfect timing - whatever I did was right on time.

"I'm trying in practice to take shots a little earlier because maybe I'm shooting too late and hitting sticks or defencemen or whatever. And when the shot is there, I'm trying to stickhandle through guys, and when I should stickhandle, I shoot. It's all opposite. It's frustrating, but I'm working on it."

So far, it is not Kovalev's worst career slump. He once went 19 games without a goal while with the New York Rangers, then scored three in a game against Pittsburgh.

The Canadiens need some of their top guns to get hot, because Lapierre and Begin are not likely to keep providing the goals for long, although they like their moment in the spotlight.

"I know my role on this team and it's to bring some energy and he strong on faceoffs and defensively," said Lapierre. "But I know I can also create some offence with my speed because I did it in the past in the AHL and in the last few games here."

Lapierre spent part of practice skating with Kovalev, which drew some questions to Carbonneau at his meeting later with the media. The coach just laughed.

"It's so funny, I just looked at my computer and they already had our lines on there," he said. "There were no lines today. It was just a working day."

Notes: - Carey Price will start in goal against Atlanta. . . Kostopoulos missed practice with flu-like symptoms but is expected to be ready for the game. . . Mathieu Dandenault is likely to play on defence for a second game in place of Ryan O'Byrne, who was a healthy scratch against Buffalo. . . Tanguay skated and should be ready to play. . . Carbonneau said he will ask injured defenceman Mike Komisarek to work behind the bench for a second straight game. Assistant coach Doug Jarvis is back home in Brantford, Ont., where his father is reported to be very ill.

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