Bodies may age, skill doesn’t.
Take a quick look at the NHL scoring list after the first handful of games, and you’ll see it’s the revenge of the greybeards.
Names like Saku Koivu (38), Teemu Selanne (42), Jaromir Jagr (40), Ray Whitney (40), are hovering near the top.
On Tuesday evening, fans in Montreal will get a look at another of the sprightly geriatric set, former Hab Alexei Kovalev, who turns 40 on Feb. 24.
The man known as “l’Artiste” has gotten off to a roaring start as a member of the Florida Panthers (well okay, he had a great first game followed by a tepid second in Ottawa on Monday).
It should be no surprise from a man who once said he wants to play until he’s 50. As far as anyone can tell, he wasn’t joking.
Kovalev observed that the NHL is a younger league than when he left it 18 months ago for a sojourn in Russia and Switzerland, but that the old guys still have a trick or two.
“You might get weaker physically, and your reactions maybe get slower, but your skill, you never lose. In the beginning, when you start your career, it’s more about really going hard and trying to prove yourself just running around . . . at this point, all of us, we just use our experience, what we can do,” he said after participating in an optional skate with several Panthers teammates. “It’s all about getting in the right spot at the right time, make plays for faster guys or guys who can shoot the puck.”
The dream lives on, even if he’s feeling a little rickety playing alongside 19-year-old Jonathan Huberdeau, the Panthers’ most dynamic forward prospect.
“I was laughing the other day with my sons and my wife, that I’m playing with a kid who was born when I won the Cup, maybe I’ll get a chance to play with my sons. Maybe a couple of games,” he said. “I love this game, I would like to play as long as I can, but again it all comes down to the point where I feel I can’t keep up anymore and play at this level, then there’s no reason to be out there wasting your time and wasting everybody else’s time. But at this point I’m in good shape, I worked really hard to come back, and I’m happy.”
It’s the first time in a couple of years that Kovalev has returned to his former stomping ground; he’ll doubtless remember that the Panthers are always a tough out when they come to Montreal.
The Panthers are 16-13-3 in the Bell Centre, one of the rare teams to have a winning record in the Habs’ home rink.
Montreal, one of the worst home teams in the NHL last year, will be looking to post its first victory of the year on Tuesday evening (7:30 p.m. ET, RDS).
They’ll be facing Panthers backup goalie Scott Clemmensen, who is 6-0 lifetime against Montreal (starter Jose Théodore, another former Hab, will be given the night off).
And if Tuesday is the Montreal debut for the local kid Huberdeau, who hails from nearby St. Jerome, it will also be the NHL bow for his former world junior teammate Brendan Gallagher.
The feisty winger will slot in beside Brandon Prust and 18-year-old rookie Alex Galchenyuk on the third line. “Coming to the rink today I'm going to be pretty excited, pretty nervous. It's still hockey and you have play your game,” the 20-year-old B.C. native said.
That means centre Lars Eller will find himself in the press box after a poor outing against Toronto on Saturday.
“There’s no time to screw around,” coach Michel Therrien said by way of explanation.
He said he expects “speed and intensity” from Gallagher and Galchenyuk, who have been rooming together since the beginning of training camp last week.
Carey Price will start in net for Montreal.