That strategy worked in the second period Saturday, when Kovalev had a goal and an assist and Montreal scored three times in a 4-1 win over New York.
"We know how good he is when he sees a shot," Kovalev said. "It's harder for the goalie when there's traffic in front of the net. That's what we tried to do against him."
Mark Streit scored a power-play goal 7:32 into the middle period to give Montreal a 2-1 lead. Kovalev, who assisted on Tomas Plekanec's short-handed goal 37 seconds into the second, gave the Canadiens their third goal of the period with his team-leading 23rd on a screened shot past DiPietro at 12:35.
Cristobal Huet stopped 29 shots in his 11th straight start for Montreal, which has won six of eight (6-1-1).
"I think we try to stay with our game plan, play smart and outwork the other team," Huet said.
Streit got his second point of the game with an assist on a late goal by Mathieu Dandenault, who was a healthy scratch for the Canadiens' last four games.
Blake Comeau scored his third goal 5:01 into the second for New York, which lost its fourth in a row.
DiPietro made 28 saves after missing Thursday's 3-1 loss to Los Angeles because of the flu.
Kovalev made it a two-goal margin when he put a low wrist shot from the right side past defenseman Andy Sutton and between DiPietro's pads.
Plekanec scored his short-handed goal as Montreal was killing the last of three straight minor penalties.
Kovalev intercepted Islanders captain Bill Guerin's pass along the blue line and raced down the ice to the Islanders' zone, where he left a drop pass for Plekanec. Kovalev held off Islanders defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron while Plekanec swung left to put a shot past DiPietro for his 17th goal.
"They're a great transition team and they feed on mistakes," DiPietro said. "I don't think you can try to run-and-gun with a team like the Canadiens. They're a quick, fast team and that's the kind of game they like to play."
Ryder was given a roughing penalty at 16:40 when he jumped on Comeau in the left corner after the Islanders forward checked Higgins from behind headfirst into the boards. Comeau got a boarding minor on the play.
After Plekanec was sent off for tripping at 17:37 to give New York a 4-on-3 advantage, Islanders head coach Ted Nolan used his timeout after Komisarek was sent off for hooking at 18:44.
When play resumed, the scoreboard clock showed 1:05 remaining in the period -- instead of 1:16.
The lost time was added on before the second period and the teams faced off at center ice to play the final 11.1 seconds of the first before switching ends.
"It was weird," Guerin said. "I've seen it happen where it was a second or two. It happens. If we were looking for excuses I'd have to find a better one than that."
- Koivu played his 700th regular season game.
- Canadiens D Andrei Markov set up Kovalev's goal to extend his assists streak to five games. Markov was struck in the face by a puck backhanded along the boards by Ryder in the third period. He received a cheer from the sellout crowd of 21,273 when he got up and went to the bench before returning to collect his second assist of the game on Dandenault's goal with 2:39 remaining.