Struggling Ottawa Senators forward Alexei Kovalev spoke for the first time Friday since being dropped to the fourth line earlier in the week. And the enigmatic Russian winger was not happy with the demotion.
"There's nothing I can do about it," said Kovalev. "I'm not the only one not playing well and he decides to pick me. It's been happening my whole career. I accept that."
The 37-year-old had only 12 shifts and less than 10 minutes of ice time skating alongside Jesse Winchester and Peter Regin in Thursday night's 5-3 loss to the New York Rangers. And the veteran forward he feels that he's been singled out for the team's collective struggles.
"You always find a goat to blame it on but like I said I'm used to it," said Kovalev.
Despite being held scoreless for the past six games, Kovalev, in the final season of a two-year, $10 million contract, says he feels fine physically and all his problems boil down to the mental side of the game.
"Nothing is going wrong," he explained. "I never make Christmas wishes, but I think at this point I wish people would stop picking my brain and just let me play the way I can. That's the only Christmas wish I can have right now."
There has been plenty of speculation about a rift between Kovalev and head coach Cory Clouston. While Kovalev refused to single out his coach, several of his comments appeared to be pointing his finger in Clouston's direction when discussing his suddenly diminished role.
"I just don't understand because sometimes when you start playing well, and everything goes well, they start brain-picking again," said Kovalev. "I don't know why it keeps happening and why they don't just let me play like I can. I don't know if it's some kind of jealousy or something else."
Clouston was pressed on the issue, but would not take the bait.
"He is not being picked on," said the coach. "It's not about under performance. It's not about expecting everyone to have a good performance every night. We just want the effort. We want the consistency of effort. That's all it comes down to."
When asked if he felt that the Senators are getting their money's worth on a player that is currently tied for fourth in team scoring with seven goals and seven assists in 30 games, Clouston said that the team got what they thought they were getting.
"This is about what we expected," he said. "We are very happy with his game some nights and very disappointed with his game other nights."
Clouston admitted that the team needed more from Kovalev if they hope to return to the post-season once again.
"Fine for me isn't quite good enough," said Clouston. "We need him to be more than fine. It's just about consistency. When he bring a consistent effort he's a very good hockey player."
Lost in the shuffle was the fact that Friday's game against the New Jersey Devils marks the return of Anton Volchenkov to the nation's capital.
The 28-year-old Moscow native spent seven seasons in Ottawa before signing a six-year, $25.5 million free agent contract with the Devils this past summer.