Known in hockey circles as a likable and generous person capable and willing to help teammates, both young and old, Alex Kovalev returns to the Pittsburgh Penguins tonight with hopes of bringing back some of that on-ice flare he has lacked in recent years.

“Maybe the change also sometimes helps,” he said ti Michelle Crechiolo of the Penguins’ team site. “When you get with certain teams and you’re not playing well and you’re going deep into a hole and you just can’t recover, I think sometimes change makes a big difference.”

Kovalev, playing for the worst team in the Eastern Conference, has totaled just 27 points in 54 games, yet Penguins general manager Ray Shero understands what Kovalev can bring to the table.

“Their team is not having the season they expected, and it’s difficult to play in those situations. So we’re taking the chance that he’ll translate his game and his skill level in playing here in Pittsburgh. I think he’s going to play like Billy Guerin. He’s a proud player, he’ll want to do well. That’s the hope.”

Obviously, some concerns exist, but at the expense of a conditional 7th round draft pick, it was a gamble too good to pass up.

For his part, Kovalev said he always loved the city of Pittsburgh and remains close friends with many people from the area, which makes his return all the more welcomed.

“It was the best birthday present I could ask for,” said Kovalev, who turned 38 yesterday — the day he was traded.

Sometimes playing in a friendly environment conducive to having fun is just what a struggling player needs. Kovalev, certainly struggling this season until just recently, understands that he’ll be expected to shoulder a great deal of the team’s offense in the coming weeks, as a plethora of injured players nurse their way to good health.

“I know the team is going through a lot of adversity,” he said. “Sometimes it’s not easy having so many guys out of the lineup, but we’ll do our best. This team seems to me, that even with all the injured guys, they’re doing a pretty good job. All I want to try to do right away is fill up that hole that they’re missing and contribute in the best way possible.”

And he’ll certainly get that chance tonight, as he skated on the top line with Jordan Staal and James Neal, while also playing the point on the first power play unit.