Ilya Kovalchuk Needs To Step Up His Game with New Jersey Devils

Mark RitterSenior Writer IApril 19, 2010

NEWARK, NJ - APRIL 14:  Ilya Kovalchuk #17 of the New Jersey Devils skates against the Philadelphia Flyers in Game One of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Prudential Center on April 14, 2010 in Newark, New Jersey.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

When New Jersey Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello made the trade that brought Ilya Kovalchuk over from the Atlanta Thrashers there were plenty of prognosticators that felt the acquisition would cement the Devils as a Stanley Cup favorite.

Kovalchuk is arguably one of the game's best snipers, a tremendous talent who possesses incredible speed and great on-ice vision and a nose for the net—all the tools that make up a superstar in today’s NHL.

Unfortunately for the Devils, Kovalchuk is yet to show his true worth, struggling to adjust to his new linemates and new system since coming over from the Thrashers, and now struggling to find his game in the playoffs.

Thus far in the Devils series versus the Philadelphia Flyers, Kovalchuk has managed to light the lamp just once. Kovalchuk fans will point to the fact that he leads the Devils in points with five, but the Devils didn’t acquire Kovalchuk to set up teammates. He’s here to do one thing and one thing only—score goals.

More alarming is the fact that Kovalchuk has amassed a paltry six shots through the first three games—none in the third game. His inability to find open space and create shooting opportunities is just as much his fault as it is a credit to the Flyers defense, which, thus far, has been stifling.

Kovalchuk has averaged just over 23 shifts per game in the series, plenty of power play time, and just over 23 minutes of ice time per game, with Game Three seeing him on the ice for a total of 27:30—zero shots in 27-plus minutes of play? Really?

Clearly, the Devils need to make a tough decision—should they consider switching up Kovalchuk’s linemates and/or, in an effort to get his attention, should they simply cut his ice time and look to another to bulge the twine?

One thing is for sure, New Jersey is struggling offensively and something has to give.

Coming into the series against the Flyers, Kovalchuk had amassed two points (a goal and an assist) in four career playoff games as a member of the Thrashers. All four games were losses, and in all four games Kovalchuk was a non-factor.

While I will admit that Kovalchuk had a decent game in Game One of the series and a terrific effort in Game Two I would hardly call his game dominating. For a guy that seems hellbent on asking for a 10-year contract at upwards of $10 million per season, he’s not making a very good case for himself as a clutch player.

If Kovalchuk is to be considered one of the greats in this game he will have to get it done in the playoffs. Sure, playoff success is not the only factor that teams will be looking at come free agent signing time, but many general managers will be more cautious about locking Kovalchuk up long term if his contributions are negligible.

Kovalchuk is most successful when he is using his speed. He must find a way to beat the Flyers defensemen and make more of a concerted effort to use his teammates if he is to have any success against this tough, tight-checking Flyers team.

If he fails, the Devils may very well be booking tee times next week, something very few “experts” would have suspected at the time of the trade.

It’s your time Mr. Kovalchuk. Show the world you are worth $10 million a year, since right now you’re not worth your weight in mud.

Until next time! Peace!