Habs slam panic button with Kovalev mess, Kostitsyn demotion

On Feb. 17, 2008, Alexei Kovalev had a three-point game in helping the Montreal Canadiens to a 5-3 win over the Philadelphia Flyers. The effort was part of an incredible 21-point month for the Habs forward, who led the team in scoring with 35 goals and 84 points during the regular season.

On Feb. 17, 2009, Alexei Kovalev was told by Montreal General Manager Bob Gainey that his play has been so ineffective this season, his services won't be needed on a road trip to Washington and Pittsburgh, according to the Canadian Press.

This news comes at a time when there's also been a Guy Carbonneau-requested demotion of winger Sergei Kostitsyn to the AHL, joining ineffective defenseman Ryan O'Byrne in the cozy confines of Hamilton.

This is what happens when there are 100 years of expectations placed on a team that's gone 9-12 since the start of 2009, losing six of eight games this month.

We don't claim any inside knowledge of the current disarray on the Canadiens, but the volume of scuttlebutt we've received about this team has spiked today. One e-mailer wrote that "Bob Gainey is trying to trade Kovalev right now ... it's a matter of days" right as the "Go Home, Alexei" news hit the wire.

Two separate readers forwarded this French-language radio show with former Habs coach Jean Perron that claims Christopher Higgins, Carey Price and Sergei Kostitsyn have partied so hearty this season that it's affecting the team. (Much more on that from the Canadiens forum on the HF Boards, and the demotion of Kostitsyn does nothing to dispel Perron's claims, does it?)

There's going to be plenty of conjecture about the current state of the Canadiens, and what the fallout is going to be from this Kovalev decision. Already, Gainey is being coy about the forward's future with the team. It's not like Alexei doesn't have value as the deadline approaches. (And, with that, Pittsburgh Penguins fans rush into their basements to drag old jerseys out of mothballs.)

You have to wonder how a Canadiens team that's missing Robert Lang, Alex Tanguay and now Alexei Kovalev is going to compete in the Eastern Conference, when you add in the shaky-at-best current state of the goaltending. We were serious when we wrote that it would be a perverse joy to see the Habs fail to make the postseason in their centennial season. We just figured it would be a slow fade rather than a sudden implosion like this.

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