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It might be early, but so far the Kings look OK without Ilya Kovalchuk

On paper, adding Ilya Kovalchuk to the Los Angeles Kings seemed like a no-brainer. I still remember the general consensus: sure, it might make it tougher to retain the team’s second-tier young players (Drew Doughty wasn’t – and isn’t – going anywhere) but sometimes you have to break a few prospect eggs to make a 50-goal scorer omelet, right?

While I count(ed) myself among the few who considered Kovalchuk a risky gamble, even I thought that the high-scoring winger made some sense for the Kings. Well, as you probably know, the Kings lost out to the New Jersey Devils in the protracted “Kovalchuk Sweepstakes” and changed direction by adding wounded but talented shutdown defenseman Willie Mitchell as their Free Agent Plan B.

It might be a bit hasty to draw too many conclusions from the first couple weeks of the regular season, but Craig Custance of the Sporting News points out that the Kings are doing well (3-1 record, tied 1-1 with the Carolina Hurricanes as of this moment) while the Devils are dealing with a troubling start.

While the struggling Devils try to figure out where to fit all their high-end left wingers — not to mention maneuver around their impossibly tight salary cap situation — the Kings have quietly started the season 3-1.

They’re winning because Jonathan Quick arrived at camp in better shape, ready to fight off the talented Jonathan Bernier as the Kings’ starting goalie. So far, Quick is 3-0-0, with a 0.97 goals-against average and .963 save percentage.

They’re also winning because Plan B in the post-Kovalchuk recruitment might be better than Plan A.

Custance points out the perks of having Mitchell: it gives the Kings the opportunity to pair one, ultra-responsible stay-at-home defenseman with one gifted young blueliner on their top two D pairs. (Mitchell often skates with Drew Doughty while 2009 free agent signing Rob Scuderi usually watches Jack Johnson’s back.)

Of course, it’s not all as sunny as the weather in Los Angeles. There’s a reason the Kings targeted Kovalchuk, after all: their offensive depth is lacking. Beyond the underrated ace Anze Kopitar, the team sports some works in progress such as Wayne Simmonds, solid but unspectacular pieces including Dustin Brown and frequent IR inhabitants like Justin Williams.

On the bright side, Custance points out that the Kings possess something that makes them rare among predicted Cup contenders: cap space (I’d say around $6 million as their situation is a little muddy on CapGeek.com right now).

They’ll surely be in on the Brad Richards trade talk if the Dallas Stars decide they can’t afford to pay their center, who suddenly is being called the premier 2011 potential unrestricted free agent.

And if Jarome Iginla ever becomes available in Calgary? He might be the perfect fit.

It would be an awfully bitter pill for the Stars to swallow if they traded Richards to a division rival, especially if they continue their (slightly improbable?) playoff pace. Then again, in this cold money-driven/ cap-driven world, the Kings might be able to offer the best package of prospects. My guess is that Kings GM Dean Lombardi would want to sign Richards to a medium-sized contract extension if he decided to go that route, though.

Iginla would be an easier but probably lower-end “get” for the Kings at this point in his career, although his leadership would be nice in the locker room and his personality would be a great fit for the market. The problem with Iginla is that if his downward trend continues, he still has two more seasons and $14 million left on his contract (or $7 million per season through 2012-13).

Regardless, weighing the pros and cons of adding an aging star during the trade deadline is certainly a happier situation than wondering how you’re possibly going to get under the salary cap. It’s still early, but so far, it seems like Lombardi’s mostly slow-and-steady approach is paying dividends … even if Lombardi clearly wanted to compromise that tortoise pace for a hare who left him the dust for New Jersey.

Devils unveil ‘The Salute’ statue in honor of Martin Brodeur

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The New Jersey Devils on Monday unveiled ‘The Salute’ — a statue paying homage to one of the greatest goalies in NHL history, Martin Brodeur, who will have his No. 30 uniform retired Tuesday at Prudential Center.

“Looking at the pictures of my career and some of the events that meant a lot to me, I always saluted the fans,” Brodeur, a three-time Stanley Cup winner with the Devils, told the Fire and Ice blog.

“That picture, at different times, in different jerseys, actually, like with Team Canada, it all came to that same pose.”

More on the statue from the Devils:

The 900-pound bronze statue was created by renowned sculpture and artist Jon Krawczyk, who worked with Brodeur on the design. Krawczyk, a Boonton Township, N.J. native and lifelong Devils fan, who also created the hockey statue on Championship Plaza outside of Prudential Center, personally drove “The Salute” from his Malibu, Cali. studio to the arena late last week.

Video: Panthers furious after Abdelkader ‘cheap shot’ hit on Barkov

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The Florida Panthers are fuming after their skilled 20-year-old forward Aleksander Barkov left Monday’s game against the Detroit Red Wings following a hit from Justin Abdelkader.

Abdelkader caught Barkov with a hard hit near the goal line as the Panthers player tried to move the puck up ice early in the second period.

The only call on the play was to Panthers’ blue liner Alex Petrovic for the retaliatory cross check on Abdelkader. Barkov left the game and didn’t return with an upper-body injury.

Members of the Panthers irate with the hit, and the fact there was no call.

“It was a cheap hit, I don’t know how the ref didn’t call it,” Nick Bjugstad told the Miami Herald. “It was frustrating, the whole bench felt that way. We’re not happy with it. It turned the game around. Barkov has tough shoes to fill. It looked pretty serious. We’ll see how the league handles it and I think they will. I just don’t know how it wasn’t handled on the ice.”

“You hate to lose your top player, but that’s part of the game,” added Panthers’ head coach Gerard Gallant.

“We’re disappointed to lose him. I thought it was a cheap shot but the referees didn’t see it that way and explained to me it was a clean check. It’s tough. It happens quick and we get to see the replay. I think it’ll be looked at. [Abdelkader] left his feet a little and got him in the jaw.”

The Panthers gave up three goals in the third period in a 3-0 loss to the Red Wings.

Penguins thump the Ducks as Crosby’s hot streak continues

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In a meeting between two clubs enjoying hot streaks and their own subsequent climbs through the standings, the Pittsburgh Penguins bested the Anaheim Ducks courtesy another dominant Sidney Crosby performance on Monday.

After that slow start, Crosby has put together a growing number of dominant performances of late.

The latest, a four-point night, helped the Penguins to a 6-2 final over the Ducks, stopping Anaheim’s winning streak at six games.

— He extended his scoring streak to a career best seven games, and did so with two beauty goals versus the Ducks.

— From Dec. 18 to Feb. 8, he’s appeared in 21 games. In that span, he’s recorded 34 points.

— Crosby is now into the top five among NHL players in points, with 53 in 51 games this season.

He wasn’t the only Pittsburgh player to have a big night. Keep in mind, Evgeni Malkin wasn’t even in the lineup due to a lower-body injury.

Ten different Penguins players recorded points. In addition to Crosby, Chris Kunitz and Kris Letang had multi-point efforts, and four players — Kunitz, Crosby, Olli Maatta and Patric Hornqvist — were plus-four.

The Penguins now move into third in the Metropolitan Division, while the New York Islanders slip into the first Wild Card spot in the East. Pittsburgh’s lead over the Islanders, however, is only one point.

The Islanders also have a game in hand.

Panthers’ Barkov (upper-body injury) leaves game versus Red Wings

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The Florida Panthers will be without Aleksander Barkov for the remainder of their game versus the Detroit Red Wings on Monday.

As per multiple reports, Barkov will not return due to an upper-body injury suffered after a hit from Justin Abdelkader early in the second period.

Abdelkader wasn’t given a penalty on the play. Barkov didn’t play another shift after that hit.

In 42 games this season, the 20-year-old Barkov has 16 goals and 35 points.