Is New Jersey Devils Star Ilya Kovalchuk Playing with a Bad Back?

By Steve Palumbo

If you watched the New Jersey Devils 4-3 overtime loss in game one of their second round series with the Philadelphia Flyers then you probably found yourself wondering, “What’s up with Ilya Kovalchuk?”

It’s been rumored that New Jersey’s $100 million dollar man played most of his teams first round series a bit banged up. That came as no surprise to anybody because these are the Stanley Cup playoffs and everybody is playing through something. But, after having watched Kovalchuk labor up and down the ice against the Flyers, I have to wonder just how hurt is the Devils star?

In game one against the Flyers he played a total of 21:20 and didn’t manage to fire a single shot on net. Kovalchuk finished the game -2 and is now a team worst -5 in the postseason. He is appears to be in so much discomfort that he has completely altered his skating stride just to get himself up and down the ice.

One giant red flag was the Russian snipers lack of movement on the power play. Instead of moving around to create a scoring chance, Kovalchuk stood still by the faceoff circle waiting for a  one-timer. His lack of movement allowed the Flyers to close the passing lanes to Kovalchuk off, thus eliminating him as a threat altogether.

Many have speculated that Kovalchuk is fighting through a groin injury. There is one problem with that theory. The few days off after the last series seems to have made his condition worse instead of better which is typical of resting a sore groin.

I have to agree with Devils beat writer Tom Gulitti’s assessment that Kovalchuk may in fact be playing with a “lower-back” issue. The idea that Kovy’s back is aching makes the most sense. Back injuries typically stiffen up during inactivity, lending credence to the idea that his condition appears to have worsened after a few days off the ice.

According to Gulliti, Kovalchuk received prolonged treatment from the Devils medical staff after the game and then walked slowly through the locker room. That in it self is not good news for New Jersey.

Kovalchuk insists he’s “fine” despite his obvious discomfort. How long can he expect to keep this up before he actually starts to hurt the team?

If Kovalchuk is not healthy enough to help the Devils then New Jersey head coach Pete Debeor will be forced to make a tough decision and sit his star winger.

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