MONTREAL - Alex Kovalev admits he has to start playing better hockey, especially with injuries mounting on the Montreal Canadiens.
The big winger, who led the team with 84 points last season, was benched for most of the third period of a 3-1 loss to the Boston Bruins on Sunday for his listless play.
He then met with coach Guy Carbonneau to clear the air.
"He's the coach, I'm a player, he does his job, I do mine," Kovalev said Tuesday. "He's not going to come on the ice and do my job, and when I do it better, everybody's happy. So the important thing for me is to play better."
One result is that Kovalev has been reunited with the linemates he had great success with last season - centre Tomas Plekanec and winger Andrei Kostitsyn. The line was broken up after getting off to a slow start this season.
"The most important thing is chemistry with the partners," said Kovalev, adding that he did not ask for the line to be put back together. "I'm trying to find a connection and again, it comes down to my game and how I perform.
"If I'm playing well, the line plays better. We tried hard this year and nothing was working for us. It would definitely be exciting to get that groove back we had last year."
Plekanec, who had a breakthrough campaign of 29 goals and 40 assists with Kovalev in 2007-08, has been quiet this season with only 10 goals and 11 assists through the first 50 games, although Kostitsyn has been fine, scoring 17 goals with mainly other linemates.
"They were one of the best lines in the league last year, so I don't see how it disappeared during the summer," said Carbonneau. "All three of them have struggled at times, but now more than ever we need those three guys to get going."
The Canadiens recently had forwards Saku Koivu and Christopher Higgins and goalie Carey Price return from injuries. Now others are starting to fall again.
On Sunday, centre Robert Lang had the Achilles tendon in his left heel accidentally sliced by Stephane Yelle's skate. The 38-year-old had surgery Sunday night and is expected to be out for at least three months - returning sometime during the playoffs.
Winger Guillaume Latendresse slid hard into the boards and injured a shoulder in the same game. He was to see a doctor for a final diagnosis on Tuesday afternoon, but he is expected to be out for a few weeks.
And defenceman Patrice Brisebois was to miss Tuesday night's game against Pittsburgh with a lower-body injury.
Lang led the team with 18 goals and has been one of their best players since he was acquired in an off-season trade with Chicago.
"The surgery was a success," said Carbonneau. "They put extra stitches there just to be sure.
"They think it will be three months, but who knows how he will respond. The good news is they say he will play hockey again. Will he be able to come back and play this year? I don't know."
Kovalev said he talked to Lang when he got out of the hospital.
"He didn't sleep at all last night because the nurses were asking for autographs like, five times a night, but otherwise, he feels fine," said Kovalev.
The news was not all bad, though.
Defenceman Josh Gorges, who had his head slammed into the glass by a flying elbow from Los Angeles Kings rearguard Denis Gauthier during a 4-3 win on Saturday, was back on the ice, feeling ready to go.
Gauthier was suspended five games for the hit on Monday, which Gorges said was ample punishment.
But Carbonneau feels the NHL should come down harder on dangerous hits to the head and said Gauthier's suspension wasn't long enough.
"But at least it's a start," he said. "At one point, they're going to have to make a statement."
Defenceman Mathieu Dandenault, who has been out since Dec. 11 with a broken arm, and tough guy Georges Laraque, gone since Christmas with a sore back, were both on the ice for Tuesday's skate and should be ready to return Friday night in Buffalo.
Laraque went out before the skate wearing martial arts gloves for 20 minutes of practice fighting with fight trainer Bobby Fillipelli and for some jostling with teammates, then joined the regular practice.
"It's just to test my back," said Laraque. "If I was a goal-scorer, I wouldn't test it like that."
Winger Alex Tanguay, out since Jan. 2 with a shoulder injury, is still weeks away from returning.
When the last wave of injuries hit, the Canadiens seemed to bear down and play better. It was when they were healthy that they went on a season-high four-game losing run that started before the all-star break.
"We were in the same situation and we went 8-2," said Carbonneau. "I know we can win with the people we have in this room.
"We have to get back to our style and play with confidence and build it up from the base."
There has been debate of late over whether Kovalev plays better when he acts as captain, which is when Koivu is out of the lineup. That prodded Carbonneau on Sunday to state emphatically that he "will not take the C off Saku."
Kovalev smiled when asked about it.
"That's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard from you guys (reporters)," he said. "I don't even want to go there.
"One of my friends told me you guys wrote an article and it made me laugh. When I was frustrated and disappointed with my play, at least something made me laugh."