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Schwei: Kovalchuk Leads The Way For Devils

Ilya Kovalchuk

(credit: Al Bello/Getty Images)

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By John Schweibacher
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The New Jersey Devils have won four in a row since the NHL’s all-star break, thanks in great part to Ilya Kovalchuk, who scored the game-winning shootout goal against the Rangers and followed that up with three straight three-point games in New Jersey’s victories over Montreal. Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Kovalchuk is only the fourth player in Scouts/Rockies/Devils history to score at least three points in each of three consecutive games. The other players to do that were Paul Gardner for Colorado (October-November 1977) and two Devils: Patrik Sundstrom (December 1989) and Stephane Richer (February 1993).

Kovalchuk was the first NHL player on any team with three straight three-point games since Nicklas Backstrom in April 2010.

The Devils face the Rangers for the second straight Tuesday night when the two rivals meet at Madison Square Garden. New Jersey took last week’s contest, 4-3, in the shootout, evening the season between the two clubs at one win apiece.

Henrik Lundqvist was not in net for the Rangers when they lost to the Devils last week, ending his string of 32 consecutive starts against his metropolitan area rival. The previous time Lundqvist did not start a Rangers-Devils game was back on December 17th, 2006, when Kevin Weekes took the loss in a 6-1 New Jersey victory at MSG.

Weekes is also the last Rangers goaltender other than Lundqvist to get a win against the Devils, beating his future club, 3-2, in a shootout back on November 5th, 2005 at the Garden.

Martin Biron took the shootout loss in last week’s Rangers-Devils match-up, dropping his career record against New Jersey to 8-15-5. The 15 losses match Biron’s most vs. any opponent, equaling his 15 career defeats against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The Devils host the St. Louis Blues Thursday night at Prudential Center.

The Blues have gone 24-7-7 since Ken Hitchcock took over as head coach 14 games into this season, the best any NHL team has done under a coach who took over prior to or during the 2011-12 NHL campaign.

Here is how the 13 newest NHL bench bosses, including the Devils’ Pete DeBoer, have fared this season (through games of 2/5):

· STL Ken Hitchcock (24-7-7) .724
· LA Darryl Sutter (10-4-6) .650
· NJD Peter DeBoer (30-19-3) .606
· FLA Kevin Dineen (24-16-11) .578
· MIN Mike Yeo (25-19-8) .558
· OTT Paul MacLean (27-21-7) .555
· WAS Dale Hunter (15-12-3) .550
· DAL Glen Gulutzan (25-21-2) .542
· ANA Bruce Boudreau (12-11-4) .519
· WPG Claude Noel (24-24-6) .500
· CAR Kirk Muller (12-12-5) .500
· MTL Randy Cunneyworth (7-12-2) .381
· CLB Todd Richards (3-7-1) .318

New Jersey’s game against St. Louis will be their 5th on home-ice against a Western Conference opponent this season. The Devils have gone 3-0-1 so far vs. the west at Prudential Center, with three of the four games being decided in shootouts. New Jersey is 3-5-0 against Western Conference clubs on the road with just one such game remaining; April 5th at Detroit.

Pete DeBoer’s Devils conclude their season series against his former club, the Florida Panthers on Saturday afternoon in Newark. New Jersey has won two of the three meetings between the two teams so far this season, a 3-2 shootout victory on December 13th in Florida and a 5-2 win at Prudential Center on January 6th. The Panthers’ lone win was their come-from-behind, 4-3 victory, November 21st in Sunrise.

Zach Parise and David Clarkson each scored two goals for the Devils in their come-from-behind 5-3 win over the Canadiens. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, it was the first time that the Devils had two multiple-goal scorers in one game since March 23rd, 2010, when Parise and Travis Zajac each scored twice in a New Jersey victory against Columbus.

After being benched during Thursday’s game against Montreal, Kurtis Foster scored a pair of goals; both on power play, in the Devils’ 6-4 win at Philadelphia on Saturday. It was the third two-goal game of Foster’s NHL career; his previous multi-goal games were for Minnesota (November 19th, 2005 vs. Nashville) and Tampa Bay (November 27th, 2009 vs. the Rangers).

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Foster was the first New Jersey defenseman to score two goals in one game since Andy Greene against Carolina on December 9th, 2009, and was also the first Devils backliner to score two power play goals in one game since Brian Rafalski on February 14th, 2007 vs. Montreal.

Schwei’s Plus/Minus:

Plus: Anton Volchenkov. Defenseman ends 103-game stretch without a goal, 101 of those with the Devils, to avoid reaching David Hale’s dubious club-record of 146.

Minus: PK woes. After not allowing a power-play goal through their first 10 home games, New Jersey has now given up 10 in their last 16 games on home-ice.

How will the Devils fare this week? Sound off below!