Ilya Kovalchuk was benched for the second game of SKA St. Petersburg’s first-round playoff series after he turned it what was deemed a disappointing effort in the opening contest, but his KHL club isn’t stopping the punishment there.
After training alone in St. Petersburg ahead of Game Two, Kovalchuk has reportedly been benched for both of SKA’s upcoming home games, which will take place Thursday and Saturday. And if — or when — he returns to the lineup, it doesn’t appear he’ll be the team’s captain either. According to a report by Russia’s Sport-Express, Kovalchuk has been stripped of the captaincy.
“The decision on Ilya Kovalchuk is this: he has been withdrawn from the squad, and is training on an individual program,” SKA coach and former NHLer Sergei Zubov told the team’s website.
There was reason to believe part of Kovalchuk’s initial “removal” from the lineup, as SKA put it, was tied to a turnover he committed in the second period of Game One that led to the game-tying goal.
St. Petersburg did respond after dropping the opening game of the series, picking up a 3-2 victory with Kovalchuk out of the lineup to tie the series 1-1. For that reason alone, it would make at least some sense if Zubov had only intended to bench Kovalchuk for Game Three to keep his winning Game Two lineup together. However, if Kovlachuk won’t be back for Game 4 either it raises further questions about his future with the club. As of Wednesday, though, Kovalchuk is still a member of the team.
“Today talked with Kovalchuk,” Alexander Medvedev, former KHL president and current SKA board member, told Championat. “Ilya remains a member of the team, even though training separately.”
Heading into the post-season, Kovalchuk was second in scoring on St. Petersburg with 16 goals and 49 points in 50 games and has been a near point per game player since returning to the league following his abrupt retirement from the NHL in 2013. In 149 regular season games since his return to the KHL, Kovalchuk has notched 57 goals and 144 points, and he has mustered 11 goals and 24 points in 33 playoff games over that time.
In the 2014-15 post-season, Kovalchuk led the way for SKA with eight goals and 19 points in 22 games, including the Gagarin Cup-winning goal as St. Petersburg clinched their first championship since Kovalchuk joined the team in 2013. Kovalchuk was named the playoff MVP.
Kovalchuk’s four-year contract with SKA is set to expire following the 2016-17 season.