With the loss of Ilya Kovalchuk for possibly a month, the New Jersey Devils are faced with a daunting question. Who will step up to fill the void?
The club made the monumental trade for the Russian native and practically mortgaged the farm to keep him when he became a free agent for one reason and one reason only–his ability to put the puck in the net.
Yet, since joining the Devils, his role has evolved. Kovalchuk is on the ice in all types of situations now. He plays on the power play, kills penalties and logs a great deal of ice time each game. As a matter of fact, he averages the most minutes of any NHL forward. His much-improved defensive skills has resulted in a league-leading four shorthanded goals.
In addition to the minutes and his versatility, Kovalchuk has become a leader in the locker room as well. Those are some big shoes to fill.
Currently, the winger is second on the team in point totals with 27. Patrick Elias is first with 29. He and Kovalchuk both have 10 goals. The slumping David Clarkson leads the team in goals with 12.
However, goal scoring has been an issue for the club since the beginning of this lockout shortened season. The Devils are tied for twenty-fourth place with the Nashville Predators in team scoring with 78 goals.
Prior to the season, the question was how do you replace former captain Zach Parise who headed west with his 30 plus goals. That issue seemed to have been addressed with the sizzling start the club had this season. They were getting goals from a variety of places.
What a difference a month makes because since the end of February goals and wins were hard to come back. Now Martin Brodeur is back in net, but Kovalchuk is out.
The team placed him on injured reserve last night. General Manager Lou Lamoriello has said that x-rays on his right shoulder were negative and he will not require surgery. Other than that, the information has been sketchy and given past experience with the Devils and injuries, it will not improve.
If the Devils want to hold onto that last playoff spot, tonight’s game against the Ottawa Senators and those that follow are must wins.
“When you lose your top player,” Brodeur said yesterday when addressing the media. “It’s something that’s hard on a team’s morale, especially for the first few games. I think after that, life has to go on. It’s important that guys take it in their own hands to fill the void.”
Matt D’Agostini slipped into the top line this evening with Andrei Loktionov and Adam Henrique. The newly-acquired forward certainly has the ability to score, but wasn’t doing much of that with the St. Louis Blues this season.
“For sure, it’s an opportunity,” D’Agostini said yesterday. “As bad as it is when someone gets injured, it’s an opportunity for someone else.”
The Senators struck first with Chris Phillips netting one just a couple of minutes after the puck dropped to start the game. The Devils’ record when the opposing teams scores first isn’t good. In the last nine games, they have only scored the first goal once and that was when Brodeur notched the third of his career.
Loktionov finally tied it near the end of the second period. However, the knotted score didn’t last long with the Senators taking the lead once more with only six seconds left in the period. A huge effort from Devils’ defenseman, Marek Zidlicky evened the score once more.
Another mystery in the making was the absence of Devils’ captain Bryce Salvador and forward Stephen Gionta from the bench during the middle period. Neither player would return to the ice. Salvador was reported to have an upper body injury and Gionta a lower body one.
Losing two more players at such a crucial juncture of the season does not bode well for a team that is already struggling to stay in a playoff position.
In the end, a shootout would decide this one with the Devils only coming away with one vital point.