Alex Kovalev pulls on his new jersey in front of his locker in the Ottawa Senators dressing room at Scotiabank Place in Ottawa on Tuesday, July 21, 2009. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
OTTAWA - Alex Kovalev's detractors often accuse him of not working hard enough.
But with Ottawa looking for an offensive spark ahead of the new NHL season's first Battle of Ontario, the talented Russian winger said the Senators' biggest problem so far may have been a result of working too hard.
"We were just trying to do so much ...," Kovalev said Monday in discussing the Senators' lack of production in a season-opening 5-2 loss to the New York Rangers on Saturday. "(And) the harder you try, the worse it gets."
With the Senators heading into the Air Canada Centre to face the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday night, they'll be trying to show some of the balanced attack that was supposed to exist in the team's ranks after sniper Dany Heatley was dealt to San Jose at the start of training camp.
It rarely was apparent in pre-season, when Ottawa was held to just one goal in four of its six exhibition games, and only a late consolation goal against the Rangers kept that stat from popping up again when the real games began.
But it's nothing to sweat, Kovalev said following Monday's practice.
"It usually happens the first one or two games," said Kovalev, who, after signing a two-year, US$10-million free-agent deal in the summer, was held without a shot in 20 minutes 25 seconds of ice time in his Ottawa debut.
His fellow newcomers who are being counted on to contribute offensively, Milan Michalek and Jonathan Cheechoo - who came the other way in the Heatley trade, also went without a point.
Kovalev chalked the opener up to the Senators waiting all summer to get started on a fresh season and then running around with misplaced energy.
"Sometimes it takes a game or two to fall into place and all of the sudden, the lines are clicking," Kovalev said. "I wouldn't worry too much."
The Senators have already switched up their lines after the opener, although more out of necessity than panic.
Ryan Shannon, who was playing centre on the team's third line, will miss the game with an undisclosed injury after being hurt in the opener. Meanwhile, left-winger Nick Foligno will move up to the second line with centre Mike Fisher and Kovalev.
"It's still very early in the season," Senators coach Cory Clouston said. "It's not a concern, it's something we have to address for sure."
Clouston credited Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist with having a strong performance, but admitted he'd like to see the Senators "crash the net, make life difficult for the goaltender."
That was a knock against the Senators last season, when their traditionally high-powered offence slumped to 12th out of 15 teams in the Eastern Conference with 217 goals for the season.
"We know we've added some guys that are going to help us in that department and spread out the scoring," Fisher said. "We had a lot of good chances in Game 1. We'll continue to build on that and we think we'll be fine. "
"We've just got to get dirty goals and make sure we're crashing the net. You're not scoring pretty goals every night. We've got to work for them and make things happen."
The Maple Leafs, losers of both of their games so far, haven't proven to be the most-solid team defensively, either.
The additions of Mike Komisarek and Francois Beauchemin have given the Leafs added size and nastiness, but they're also experiencing some difficulty in getting settled, figuring in all 10 goals that Toronto's allowed so far through two games by either being on the ice or in the penalty box.
"Their back end is definitely very physical, but at the same time, there are not a lot of guys, other than (Tomas) Kaberle, that handle the puck, so we've got to make sure we're pressuring them and getting on them," Fisher said. "They'll turn the puck over, we saw that the first two games."