Devils

Hartnett: Without Kovalchuk, Devils Throwing Away Crucial Points In Playoff Chase

Kovalchuk's Magic Touch Sorely Needed In The Devils' Lineup
Ilya Kovalchuk (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Ilya Kovalchuk (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

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‘Devils in the Details’
By Sean Hartnett
» More Columns

The sliding New Jersey Devils have lost seven consecutive games without the presence of star winger Ilya Kovalchuk.

Kovalchuk suffered a right shoulder injury by crashing into the boards against the Florida Panthers on March 23 at Prudential Center. Since that moment, the Devils have come crashing down the Eastern Conference standings.

In the seven games that New Jersey has been without Kovalchuk, they are 0-3-4  and have lost six of seven games by a single goal either in regulation, overtime or the shootout.  While the Devils have taken four points out of these seven games, it’s worth pondering what kind of position they would be in had Kovalchuk not suffered that unfortunate injury against the Panthers.

For the Devils, it’s not four points gained — it’s 10 points dropped in the battle for the final playoff places in a tight Eastern Conference.  New Jersey is currently on the outside looking in as they’re two points below the eighth-place New York Islanders.

In the majority of losses during this stretch, the Devils have outworked and outhustled their opponents. What they’re missing is Kovalchuk’s magic touch.

That was again the case on Sunday at First Niagara Center, as the Devils lost, 3-2, in Buffalo.  It’s almost as if the Devils are stuck in a “Groundhog Day” scenario, similar to the 1993 comedy in which Bill Murray plays egocentric weatherman Phil Connors, who is stuck reliving the same miserable day over and over.

The cycle needs to broken. Devils head coach Pete DeBoer labelled Sunday’s loss as “frustrating.” DeBoer must be feeling similar to Connors, as the Devils are nearly doing everything right to earn two points and seeing opportunities slip through their grasp.

“I was proud of how hard we worked, but again we leave points on the table” DeBoer explained to reporters on Sunday. “There’s been too many of those. Last year we lived on (the shootout), and this year it’s really hurting us.”

According to general manager Lou Lamoriello, “it won’t be very long” before Kovalchuk begins skating.  The Devils are crossing their fingers that their sensational assistant captain returns as quickly as possible. There isn’t any guarantee that the defending Eastern Conference champions will reach the playoffs.

Meanwhile, legendary Devils net-minder Martin Brodeur is ironically stuck on win number 666.

“It’s really concerning that we can’t just win,” Brodeur said. “That’s the bottom line. We played one of the teams that we should beat, and I thought we deserved to beat them the way we played.”

When healthy, Kovalchuk is one of the most explosively-gifted offensive players in the NHL.  The Russian sniper is a constant threat every shift he’s on the ice. His complete offensive package of hard shooting, one-on-one individual brilliance and ability to use his vision to make teammates better is a massive hole missing in the Devils’ lineup.

I sincerely hope DeBoer’s morning alarm clock isn’t playing “I Got You Babe” by Sonny and Cher, nor would I blame him for breaking a hotel alarm clock or two in frustration. That’s the way things are going for the Devils without Kovalchuk.

How desperately do the Devils need Kovalchuk to return to their lineup? Is New Jersey in serious danger of missing the playoffs? Share your thoughts below and send your tweets to @HartnettHockey.