Tag Archives: kovalchuk

Devils’ End

It’s just about four weeks since the Devils’ season ended and I’m finally rational enough to write rationally about it. I think this was the most uneventful, non-season in the decade I’ve been a season ticket holder, and therein lies the problem.

Lou signed Ilya Kovalchuk, but Lemaire couldn’t figure out how and when to manage him, and how and when to let him freelance, so an opportunity was wasted.

When veteran players were hurt (Clarkson, Martin, Elias) the young guns from Lowell played well, and the team had a fine November. The fire and energy seemed to disappear after Christmas. In particular, Paul Martin looked like he was afraid of contact, puck control, speed, and possibly the groundhog’s shadow after he returned. Disappointing, and you wonder what the deeper root causes are for such a tail-off in performance.

Whatever happened between White and Langenbrunner at the start of the season didn’t do much for White. I’ve never seen a veteran defenseman stand around, miss his man, and generally be useless in defensive situations. And then Lemaire put him in front of the net on the power play, which sums up Lemaire’s attempts at coaching this team. During the last game versus the Flyers, the Devils spent an entire power play passing the puck along the perimeter, without anyone moving to create space, or create time to a shooting lane to open up. When someone with a USA Hockey Level 2 coaching card recognizes this problem, you have a huge problem on both sides of the bench.

After the first of the year, the Devils just looked like they were mailing it in. Inconsistent play, random defense, and the constant juggling of lines and player head games were disgraceful. You can’t blame just the coach or the GM or the players; it’s a combined team effort from the front office to the guy who drives the Zamboni on the practice surface. Everyone has to want to win, and has to work like that every single day. Perhaps the Devils have just become complacent; playoff apperances and division titles are nice and everyone collects paychecks with a reasonable summer vacation. Look at what Mike Cammalleri has done in Montreal, where he came in with a great attitude, a love for the game and the city, and pissed off at some previous employers: They’re in the Conference Finals and Cams is leading goal-scorer in the playoffs. That’s what wanting to win does.

The fans don’t like this. The players shouldn’t like this. And I’m pretty sure that the Devils money-losing season means that the ownership doesn’t like this. I’m expecting wholesale shakeups in the off season, and the signings of Tedenby and Josefson are great starts. What they lack is a coach that will let the captain lead the team, and an intimidating presence like Stevens, and some mutual trust between players, coaches, and leadership. We can only hope that we’re able to see beyond our current, collective impression of the Devils and let the youngsters lead the way to an improved state.

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Hello Kovi, Watch Out Ovi

The Devils have (a) made a trade worth talking about (b) landed a superstar (c) dealt a jolt to the team that is likely make them focus. It’s not just about the players, it’s also a statement of what Lou expects from his team and their efforts, and what he’ll do when he’s pushed to the point that coaching can no longer correct.

First things first: Hello, Ilya Kovalchuk. Woo-hoo! Love this guy. Complain all you want (or all Chico wants) about his backchecking and defensive coverage, because it’s completely beside the point. The guy is a pure sniper, great skater, and creative on the ice. The Devils’ offense of late has shown all of the inspiration and soloing capability of Cheech and Chong’s band (“We only know three chords!”) with Jerry Channel of Boston’s Neats on vocals (nicknamed “Mono-man” by the hip press in Bean Town). Pair him with Zajac and Parise, or with Elias, and he’s even more dangerous. Add to that the cultural aspect, which I think is far too often down played: Kovalchuk is a Russian, will be a good influence on Zharkov, and can speak a bit of mamalushen with Zubrus and Elias (Elias, like all Czech students of his time, was required to learn Russian in school. Not sure if he still speaks it, but probably can recall enough to holler “Shoot, you ugly lunkhead” in the mother tongue).

Second: Lou made the comparison to the Mogilny trade before I even got on the computer. At the time, Mogilny was one of the best shots in the league, and he delivered in 2000 when the team needed him. We loved Mogilny, especially what appeared to be a good influence on Elias. We are going to heap equal adoration on Kovi.

Third: Oduya hasn’t been the same player since he got hurt. Bergfors was great in the first twenty games and now looks like he realized he skipped a grade and suddenly doesn’t remember all of the math he was supposed to have brought with him. As for Cormier, Google on “Daigle” for what’s likely an equivalent story minus the head shots. That’s it? No Zajac, no Clarkson, no Martin? And they got back Salmela in return? This is a great trade for the Devils. I like JohnnyO in so many ways, but I like Kovi more right now.

Overtime: If this doesn’t send a shock through the locker room, I don’t know what will. It means that if Lou goes shopping for another blueliner, other guys who aren’t stepping up are likely to be shopping for apartments in the hinterlands. It changes the dynamics, the lines, the friendships. Shocks like this can be explosive, further fragmenting a team, or they can be concussive and help the guys stick together a little better. Let’s see what Langenbrunner does with his latest teammates.

Prediction: Deeper Cup run, and a player who can go head to head with the Washington snowman.

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