Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise need to step up.
It's that simple. Kovalchuk and Parise are the superstars on this New Jersey Devils team and they need to start proving it.
After slow starts and injuries, these two are finally starting to pick their respective games up, finding some chemistry with each other playing on the top line.
Kovalchuk is beginning to look more and more like he did in Atlanta, posting 34 points in 36 games this year. Parise took a little longer to get going out of the gate but turned it up in November and December, recording 35 points in 41 games so far.
To put it literally, a point per game or more for each of these players is not only expected, but necessary, in order for the Devils to contend with the high-caliber teams dominating a very talented Eastern Conference.
Parise and Kovalchuk have performed somewhat admirably thus far, but they need their swagger back.
If they find their swagger, the Devils will be in a much better position to win. Unfortunately, it’s been missing since the 2009-2010 season, and if Parise and Kovalchuk are truly elite powers, they will find it again.
Approaching the halfway mark of the season and seeing where the Devils sit in the Eastern Conference standings, it is imperative that Kovalchuk and Parise start putting the team on their backs the way that star players do for other organizations.
I’m talking about winning games singlehandedly, with plays that make opponents cringe and goalies freeze—developing an identity built on intimidation.
Opponents need to arrive in Newark wary of the idea that they will be going up against two of the very best forwards in the entire league, and that there is the very distinct possibility that one, if not both, will humiliate them on game day.
Opposing teams should quite literally fear playing against Parise and Kovalchuk.
Will Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk score at least 80 points each?
Right now, there is no fear. Teams visiting the Prudential Center are not intimidated by the Devils superstars, and it is evident in the way they play against the Devils’ top line. A couple of seasons ago, defensemen would back off of Parise and Kovalchuk, specifically on the rush, for fear of being embarrassed and subsequently responsible for a goal against.
Now, defensemen step up and suffocate any offensive flare, and Parise and Kovalchuk have not been making them pay for this disrespectful audacity.
The Devils’ duo are the only ones who can change the way opposing teams play against the team. If Parise and Kovalchuk can reestablish an intimidating aura and instill fear in opponents again, then the Devils will be successful.
So, the question remains: Can Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk rediscover their swagger? With the amount of sheer talent between the two, of course they can.
In order to translate that talent to an on-ice product however, the talented tandem needs to dig deep and establish a brand of hockey built on fast-paced, confident play, and force the rest of the league to be consciously aware of what exists in New Jersey.
Then and only then, will these perennial All-Stars intimidate and recapture their swagger.