Ilya Kovalchuk was injured Saturday night when he crashed into the boards after losing an edge. Because the New Jersey Devils are typically very quiet about injuries, don’t be surprised if we hear the phrase “status quo” from GM Lou Lamoriello in regards to any injury updates that may be coming. On Sunday, Lamoriello danced through a statement involving an undisclosed upper-body injury, a generic timeline, news of some apparent reevaluation to follow, and no real indication of what happened or how long it takes to heal.
Aware that we don’t have much to go on, there were many troubling signs when Kovalchuk went down.
Kovalchuk is one of the toughest players in the league, as demonstrated by his injury-restricted playoff performances last season. For Kovy to not even try to return is an obvious indicator that something may be seriously wrong. He is not merely suffering from soreness.
The collision seemed innocent enough. There was no awkward crash or driving contact from the defender. His reaction, however, was frightening. The impact appeared to be to the top of his outstretched shoulder, but Kovalchuk held the front of his chest, wincing through pain, as he skated off the ice and went straight to the locker room.
To me, there is every indication of a broken collar bone or separated/dislocated shoulder. Kovalchuk knew he couldn’t play through the injury, and his reaction suggests severe front-shoulder pain. I don’t expect Kovalchuk to be back particularly soon.
If Kovalchuk broke his clavicle, the more typical timeline is 4-6 weeks. If Kovalchuk separated or dislocated his shoulder, the timeline varies considerably. Ryan Callahan, for example, returned from such an injury in a little over a week. As we approach the final month and a half of the season, Kovalchuk’s injury comes at a critical time for the Devils. Expect him to be out at least the 2-4 weeks that Lamoriello suggested, although Kovalchuk’s toughness could see him back on the ice quicker than most.
New Jersey was surging back into the meat of the Eastern Conference after falling precipitously without Martin Brodeur. The team reacted poorly to the loss of their legendary goaltender, falling apart defensively and going cold on offense. The loss of Kovalchuk will have a similar effect on the team.
Kovalchuk runs the point on the power play, plays upwards of 30 minutes on any given night, and is a dynamic weapon. He’s turned into a two-way player, is a leadership presence in the locker room, and his shot is irreplaceable. As demonstrated by the uninterrupted five-minute power play late in the third on Saturday, New Jersey’s offense is lost without Kovy.
Unless the Devils make a move, a collapse seems inevitable without Kovalchuk. While they have depth and goaltending, they need Ilya Kovalchuk on the top line to be effective against top teams. Kovy was just starting to develop chemistry with Andrei Loktionov, and if he is forced to miss considerable time, the Devils’ offense will be thin. The injury comes at a terrible time, and the Devils need to step up around their fallen leader.
With that said, if the New Jersey Devils can hold on without Ilya Kovalchuk, this streaky team will be a tough out in the playoffs. For now, it’s all about clinging to a top-eight spot.