Penguins Notebook: Kovalev is climbing list of most durable players

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Alex Kovalev has gotten a lot of attention over the years for being gifted and creative, which is pretty easy to understand.

What has gone largely unnoticed, though, is that he has been pretty durable, too.

Kovalev will play in his 1,300th NHL game when the Penguins face New Jersey tonight at Consol Energy Center, making him just the 50th player in league history to reach that level.

"It definitely makes me feel old," Kovalev said. "But at the same time, it makes me feel young, because it says that even after all those games and all those injuries, I'm still playing in the league."

He stands fifth in career games-played among active players, trailing only Boston's Mark Recchi (1,650), Mike Modano (1,496) and Nicklas Lidstrom (1,491) of Detroit, and Montreal's Roman Hamrlik (1,308).

Kovalev broke into the NHL with the New York Rangers during the 1992-93 season and didn't envision lasting this long when he was getting his start in North America.

"All the [lax rules enforcement] we had in the past, all the hooking and grabbing, you could hardly have predicted that you could actually play 1,000 games in this league," he said.

"But the rules have changed and the game has become faster. You still get a lot of injuries, but the game has become a lot faster. If you're a good skater, you can avoid all those injuries and at the same time, be able to play physical."

Kovalev, 38, will be an unrestricted free agent this summer. While his future in the league is far from certain, he won't rule out making a run at Gordie Howe's record of 1,767 games played.

"I'm happy with what I've achieved and I'm still in good condition," he said, smiling. "A couple more thousand would be nice. Why not?"

Devil of a loss

Unlike Kovalev, Zach Parise, New Jersey's outstanding forward, didn't do much to pad his games-played total this season.

He missed 65 of them while recovering from surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee.

Parise returned to the lineup Saturday for the Devils' 3-1 loss to Montreal, logging 16 minutes, five seconds of ice time in his first appearance since Oct. 30.

The Devils are going to sit out the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time since 1996, and being without Parise for so much of the season certainly contributed to that.

"It definitely didn't help," said Penguins defenseman Paul Martin, a former Devil. "Zach has gotten better every year. He's kind of the face of the team.

"He words hard. You know every night what you're going to get from him. Everyone likes him. He's a leader over there."

Kennedy reaches mark

It's not one of those milestones the NHL recognizes, but scoring 20 goals is a pretty fair accomplishment, especially when a guy does it for the first time at this level.

Right winger Tyler Kennedy hit that mark when he scored Saturday in the 4-2 victory at Florida.

"I never thought I'd get it this year," he said, "but I'm excited to get it."

Kennedy made it on the strength of a late-season surge in which he has scored five times in the past nine games.

"I'm just trying to shoot pucks at the net," Kennedy said. "My centerman and my [left] winger are really helping me out."

Tip-ins

Penguins center Sidney Crosby (concussion) skated with wingers Eric Tangradi, Nick Johnson (concussion) and Matt Cooke (suspension) before Monday's main practice, but did not take part in the primary workout. Of those four, only Tangradi did. ... Goalie Brent Johnson was excused from Monday's practice because his wife was giving birth to a daughter, Everly Grayce. ... Penguins prospect Brad Thiessen will receive the Bastien Award as the American Hockey League's top goalie. He is 34-7-1, with a 1.93 goals-against average and .922 save percentage, as well as seven shutouts. ... The Penguins signed Boston College forward Brian Gibbons to a two-year, entry level contract. He is 5 feet 8, 165 pounds, and had 18 goals and 33 assists in 39 games in his senior season at Boston College.



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