There are not a lot of comparisons to be made between baseball and hockey, but where the Montreal Canadiens are concerned, some dots are worthy of connecting.
A couple of decades ago, sports fans in the U.S. knew the Canadiens as the New York Yankees of hockey. In Canada, naturally, the Yankees were the Habs of baseball.
Thanks to a 14-year Cup drought in Montreal, that comparison doesn’t hold much water these days. Ironically, the baseball tie that Habs fans might feel the strongest is to the Yankees’ chief rival, the Boston Red Sox.
While the contemporary Canadiens can’t relate to playing for a championship – as the Sox are currently doing against the Colorado Rockies – the common ground is found in the fact Boston employs the Alexei Kovalev of hockey, Manny Ramirez.
Like Kovalev, Ramirez is a sublimely talented athlete who leaves no doubt with each swing of the bat that he was born to hit baseballs. But you don’t have to watch him for long to know his concentration lapses and complete lack of hustle elicit just as much teeth gnashing as his monster home runs do hand clapping.
Sound familiar, Habs fans?
Kovalev has pretty good offensive numbers (four goals, seven points through eight games) to start the season and his play has, at times, made you wonder if there is at least a baby burr under his saddle.
But it didn’t take long before he was back at odds with the media and likely had his teammates scratching their heads wondering, “Why is he saying that?”
Questioning coaching tactics publicly?
Leaving the puck completely unattended at your own blueline in overtime because you’re trying to milk a slash into a penalty (remember that classic vs. the Bruins in the ’04 post-season)?
Well, when something bizarre happens surrounding their enigmatic star in Boston they say, “That’s Manny being Manny.”
I guess the Montreal version, complete with head-shaking, would be “Alex, oh Alex.”
The key for Habs supporters – and likely the coaches and players, too – is to accept Kovalev for what he is because, at 34, he’s not changing. The guy isn’t suddenly going to arrive at the rink and start approaching the game the way Rod Brind’Amour does.
Watching a player such as Kovalev and wondering what could be will only cause more angst.
Stop expecting more than skill-induced bursts of excellence. Just sit back, enjoy watching Kovalev make the puck dance the way only a handful of other players in the world can and when the inevitable other skate drops, just swallow hard and accept that’s Alex being Alex.
Ryan Dixon's Top Shelf appears every second Friday only on thehockeynews.com.