It wasn’t so long ago that Ilya Kovalchuk and the New Jersey Devils were the laughingstock of the NHL. Losing to everyone possible while having their $100 million free agent signing showing minimal signs of his potential. Who can forget the botched shootout attempt that pretty much summed up the Devils season at that point? Although it shouldn’t happen the brunt of the criticism for the team’s lack luster play was aimed towards #17.
However, prior to the all-star break, the Devils went on a slight roll and have yet to look back. What was once a 27 point deficit for the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference has now become just 12. Who is leading the team’s resurgence? You guessed it, Ilya Kovalchuk. Ever since the hiring of Jacques Lemaire, Kovalchuk has began to play with the flare he showed in Atlanta while evolving to a better two-way player.
Most of the critique aimed at Kovalchuk throughout his career is that he is strictly offense oriented. But now? He doesn’t think shoot first as he is more than willing to dish the push. The result? Kovalchuk has a point in every game so far this month and has tailed the game-winning goal in 4 of the last 6 Devils’ victories. His confidence on both sides of the puck is evident as he hustles back into his own zone much like he would towards the opposing net.
Earlier tonight Kovalchuk would get the lone goal for the Devils against the New York Rangers for his 9th game with a point. Last week, Kovy tailed two game-winning goals to bring his total on the year with 7 which is just one away from most in the league and during his hot-streak the Devils refuse to lose going 14-1-2 in their last 17 games. Could Kovalchuk lead the team back into contention and cap off a remarkable turn around for his team? If that was to happen it’d have to happen through him.