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Devils Alley: Kovalchuk is Secretly Killing The New Jersey Devils

KovLike it or not, Ilya Kovalchuk is doing more to hurt the New Jersey Devils then help.

Since Kovalchuk joined the Devils midway through the 2009-2010 season, New Jersey is 63-71 in the regular season (OT losses combined with regulation losses) and failed to make the playoffs for the first time in a decade last season.

One of Kovalchuk's biggest weaknesses has been maintaining a positive +/- rating, posting a -28 since coming over from Atlanta and a -112 rating for his career. For those fans who don't think +/- is an important statistic in hockey, let's look at what he has done this season.

Kovalchuk has an average ice time of 25 minutes per game, which ranks 17th in the NHL and 1st on the team. During that time, his +/- rating has dropped to -11 on the season and makes him seventh worst in the league out of 746 players.

In other words, Kovalchuk is leading the team in ice time but giving up the most goals in the process. Granted, most of the team's failures have come from their lack of experience on defense, but if Kovalchuk expects to succeed in New Jersey, he needs to become more of a two way player.

According to Tom Gulitti, Kovalchuk has been on the ice for 13 of the last 17 goals the Devils have surrendered during their four game losing streak. While he has posted at least one point in that span on offense, the Devils have been out scored 17-7 and haven't scored more then two goals in the last four games.

The play of Zach Parise has also taken a hit with Kovalchuk on the ice, as his +/- has dropped to a career worst -10. Parise has never been worse then a -3 in his career, and he is also struggling to find the net with only seven goals on the season. Many believed both skaters would strive off each other before the season began, but they haven't been able to find a groove thus far.

Maybe the most concerning statistic involving Kovalchuk has been the powerplay, which has surrendered an NHL worst seven short handed goals this season. To put that into perspective, New Jersey has only scored 10 power play goals on the season.

Kovalchuk was out of action for a few of those short handed goals, but it is his responsibility to run the point on the man advantage. Adam Larsson has been the other point man this season, but a team can not rely on a 19 year old defensemen to lead the way this early in his career. If Kovalchuk wants to be the star player people see him as, he needs to step up his game.

There are clearly other factors that are causing this recent losing streak, but the finger must be pointed at Kovalchuk at this point. Even without the defensive breakdown, Kovalchuk still isn't scoring nearly as much as he has in his career, and the team is relying on Patrik Elias to lead the way.

Kovalchuk didn't turn it on until the second half of last season, and he almost brought the team back from the grave to make the playoffs. The Devils are in much better shape then they were last season, but they are running out of time if they want to keep pace in the hunt this year. They need Kovalchuk to show his star quality, something that hasn't been seen much since coming over from Atlanta.

Follow Joe on Twitter @jkuchie


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um, its NO secret....

The Devils should have let him go to the Kings, or in Russia. I respect greatly what he did in the second half of last season, but I am sick to death of him running around randomly with the puck, while I'm sitting there thinking "Kovy, just stop before you turn the puck over"... He's too predictable, making it easy for defensemen to take the puck from him. But in the final months of last season, he was brilliant. Maybe he really does have some special chemistry with Jacques Lemaire, which sucks that Lemaire is retired. This is why I think the Devils should put defensive forwards with him, so that they can bail him out if he is an idiot. I say put him on the third line with Carter and Palmieri. He played good with Palmieri last season in his remarkable run, and Carter is a hard-nosed player that can help Kovy out at driving to the net for rebounds and stuff (as well as Palmieri). This way, he has more defensive responsibilities, and he can learn until he finds his offensive game. Then when he gets hot, then move him up to the top two lines. There are ways to work around his stupidity, but the Devils need the right roster for things to happen in a positive manor with Kovalchuk. As a Devils fan, I really hope someone in the organization spends time with him and makes him better, so that he can use the strengths he has, without overpowering the strengths with his weaknesses. He was great in the second-half of last season, on a team that has no offensive depth whatsoever... So imagine if the Devils beefed up their roster offensively, and Kovalchuk were to play that same way... The Devils would be one of the Stanley Cup favorites every year. I'd hate to see Parise leave because of his hard work going to waste, because of ONE of his teammates ruining everything for his team. The Devils are stuck with him for a long time, it's time someone tries to use his strengths the right way. Maybe they need to be more offensive minded in general.

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