Ilya Kovalchuk Needs To Learn Short Shifts Save Seasons

S BCorrespondent IFebruary 7, 2010

NEWARK, NJ - FEBRUARY 05:  Ilya Kovalchuk #17 of the New Jersey Devils skates against the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Prudential Center on February 5, 2010 in Newark, New Jersey.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

The New York Times picked up a great nugget: Newly acquired New Jersey Devil Ilya Kovalchuk takes the longest shifts in the NHL, averaging 68 seconds per shift, having averaged 62 and 72 seconds per shift averages in his first two games as a Devil.

Teammate Zach Parise, who shares the left wing position with Kovalchuk, averages just 47 seconds per shift on average.

This could present several problems for the Devils.

The first one is ice time for Parise. If Kovalchuk is out on the ice, Parise isn't. So the longer Kovalchuk's shift lasts, the less of an opportunity there is for Parise, the Devils' best player, to get on the ice.

In Kovalchuk's first game for the Devils, he finished the game with 21:43 minutes of ice time to Parise's 20:28, comparable numbers.

But in Kovalchuk's second game, this time against the Rangers, Kovalchuk had 25:05 to Parise's 20:06. Plus, Kovalchuk had four minutes in penalties to Parise's two.

If Kovalchuk's shifts continue to go to their epic lengths, Parise is going to continue to see his ice time dwindle. In effect, Parise will go from being the Devils' primary scorer to a second-line secondary scorer.

It kind of defeats the purpose of having two elite wings if you're only going to really use one of them.

Yet another cause for concern with Kovalchuk's lengthy shifts is that the Devils rely on short, defined shifts to keep players fresh and to keep lines intact. When Kovalchuk lingers on the ice, he's disrupting lines, not just making it hard for Parise to get on the ice, but also for all of the other lines to become synced up.

Also, Devils coach Jacques Lemaire likes to match lines, and that becomes a lot more difficult if you've got a left wing out on the ice overlapping shifts with other lines. In effect, with Kovalchuk out for a long skate, Lemaire can often only match against two-thirds of an opposing line.

Kovalchuk has spent a long time being the best player on an average to awful team. He's always needed to be on the ice as frequently as possible. Most NHLers who came into the league as stars will tell you the biggest adjustment is to the shorter shifts. In juniors, high quality players spend almost the entire game on the ice, carrying their teams.

But in the NHL, where there is more talent, players need to adjust. It's not about spending the whole game on the ice, playing on a relatively even keel to keep your legs fresh for an entire game. Instead, it becomes more about making the most of your shifts, going all out for less than a minute and then coming back to the bench to rest.

The nice thing about short shifts is that they mean you don't have to save energy on the ice. You go as hard as you can, and then come back and wait for the next opportunity.

Kovalchuk has never been surrounded by enough talent where he wasn't needed for 21 minutes a night. Even playing with guys like Dany Heatley and Marian Hossa, Kovalchuk has still needed to do the heavy lifting for teams that were shockingly thin beneath a strong first line.

Now, in New Jersey, he's got a lot more of a support system. It's time for him to take advantage of it.

Not just for his own game, but also for the sake of Parise and the rest of the Devils.