Still, he sure celebrated it vigorously, leaping off the ice and pounding his right glove against the glass.
Kovalchuk's overtime goal ended his longest drought to start a season, and his Atlanta Thrashers spoiled "Alex Ovechkin Tribute Night" by beating the Washington Capitals 4-3 on Saturday.
"Finally," Kovalchuk said. "It was bad luck or something."
His winner came on a breakaway 3:02 into the extra period. Jim Slater gathered the puck and skated up before passing off to Kovalchuk before they reached centre ice. Kovalchuk moved in on the left side and whipped a high shot past goalie Olie Kolzig.
"He's a good shooter," said Ovechkin, a teammate of Kovalchuk's on the Russian national team.
Kovalchuk - the leading NHL scorer since the start of 2002-03 - didn't have a goal in any of Atlanta's first five games this season. Of course, that didn't prevent the Thrashers from now being 4-1-1 and atop the Southeast Division.
"When you win the games, it's easier if things didn't go your way," said Kovalchuk, who also had two assists Saturday.
Scott Mellanby, Marian Hossa and Jonathan Sim also scored for Atlanta. Kovalchuk assisted on Mellanby's goal 2:10 into the third period, putting the visitors ahead 3-2. But Ovechkin - presented with his Calder Trophy during a five-minute pre-game ceremony - assisted on Dainius Zubrus' tying goal with 5:40 remaining in regulation.
Chris Clark and Jamie Heward had Washington's other goals, and Ovechkin mostly was kept in control. He didn't have a shot in the first period, and only two in the second.
Ovechkin was presented with his award as the league's top rookie in 2005-06 by general manager George McPhee as the player's parents and brother stood nearby. The above-ice video screens showed a highlight reel from last season, with Ovechkin - only the second rookie in NHL history to produce at least 50 goals and 100 points - scoring goals, celebrating them and slamming opponents against the boards.
Taped congratulatory messages from teammates were played between periods, and commemorative coins honouring Ovechkin were handed out. Fans also could pose for photos with his trophy.
And, when play began, it took all of 10 seconds for Ovechkin to create excitement, placing a pretty pass in front of the net for Clark, who couldn't convert the chance. Clark later did get his first goal of the season, when he flicked in a rebound to tie the game at 2-2 at the 15:38 mark of the second period.
The score stayed that way until Kovalchuk's slapshot was blocked but not held by Kolzig, allowing Mellanby to tap in the rebound for his fourth goal of the season.
The Thrashers were thrilled to come away with a victory after giving up the winning goal with less than a second left at Carolina on Friday night.
"Kovy's going to sleep like a baby tonight," Atlanta coach Bob Hartley said.
Notes: Some fans booed after Washington failed to score while they had a two-man advantage for 1 1/2 minutes. Overall, Washington went 1-for-9 on power plays, and when asked what's wrong with that area, coach Glen Hanlon immediately ran down a list of seven things, then said: "How's that? That pretty much says it all, doesn't it?"