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Hockey

Ilya Kovalchuk to face off against countryman Alex Ovechkin when Kings play Capitals on Monday

Los Angeles Kings’ Ilya Kovalchuk in action during an NHL hockey game against the Philadelphia Flyer
Forward Ilya Kovalchuk, above, is facing countryman Alex Ovechkin, a former teammate with the Russian team, when the Kings and Washington Capitals play Monday night.
(Matt Slocum / Associated Press)

As Ilya Kovalchuk prepared to return to the NHL after five years, one of the first people he consulted was countryman Alex Ovechkin.

They played together for Russia and share profuse NHL scoring numbers, having combined for 1,072 goals in 1,918 games. Ovechkin last week passed Sergei Fedorov as the highest-scoring Russian-born player and has 1,183 points going into Monday.

That will be the first matchup between Kovalchuk and Ovechkin, and the Washington Capitals, since Kovalchuk came back into the league this season. Call it a Russian icon delight.

“Both of them are legends over there,” Kings coach Willie Desjardins said. “It will be good. I think there will be a battle between them. I think both want to make sure they have their best game.”

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Kovalchuk, through a team official, declined an interview Sunday after the Kings practiced in Boston. He hasn’t seemed enthused about his personal story lines on this East Coast venture, although he revealed postgame last week that he was motivated by the boos from New Jersey Devils fans upon his return to Prudential Center.

Kovalchuk has recognized the mediocre season for the Kings. They are in second-to-last place in the Western Conference, even after a 6-2-2 record in their last 10 games. Kovalchuk hasn’t commented on whether he could be open to a trade, and that seems tricky given his three-year contract worth $6.25 million per season. Kovalchuk, who turns 36 in April, has a no-move clause for the first two years and can provide a list of seven possible trade destinations in the final year, according to the website CapFriendly.

He has shown jump and touches of his cinch scoring ability from the past. He has 11 goals in 45 games, having sat out nearly a month because of an ankle procedure. He also endured diminished ice time for a strange spell under Desjardins before the injury.

Pavel Buchnevich, a New York Rangers forward who played with Kovalchuk in Russia, watched that episode curiously from afar.

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“He was a great guy, a great teammate,” Buchnevich said. “If you have any questions, he’s the first to support you. He’s always a good guy. I didn’t know what the situation is with him and L.A. I think he’s a great player. He’s better right now [if] he plays on that first line with [Anze] Kopitar. He’s probably more impactful for that team.”

Desjardins has tried that at times, but the Kings have built some identity in their current forward groups, with Kovalchuk on a line with Carl Hagelin and Adrian Kempe.

The Kings have taken the ice with a new mentality, too. Kopitar cited Saturday’s overtime loss against the Boston Bruins as an example.

“Those are the games that we couldn’t punch [out] one point, or punch it into OT before,” Kopitar said. “For whatever reason, we were doubting ourselves a little bit. Now we’re finding a way to put up points. That’s essentially what it comes down to.”

Etc.

Jeff Carter (lower-body injury) watched practice in street clothes and doesn’t appear close to returning … Sean Walker will come out of the lineup as part of the back-end defensemen rotation, Desjardins said … Jonny Brodzinski (shoulder) is practicing but “he’s a little bit ways away,” Desjardins said.

AT WASHINGTON

When: Monday, 4 p.m. PST

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On the air: TV: FS West; Radio: iHeartRadio (LA Kings Audio Network)

Update: Washington has played five consecutive one-goal games and is 3-1-1, but those are the only Capitals victories in their last 12 games. Jonathan Quick is 9-2 with a 2.23 goals-against average against Washington.

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curtis.zupke@latimes.com

Twitter: @curtiszupke


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