Ilya Kovalchuk

Devils coach John MacLean says it was his call to scratch Kovalchuk

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Who knew that drama would follow Ilya Kovalchuk everywhere he went? Tonight, drama found him thanks to being listed as a healthy scratch for the Devils game against the Buffalo Sabres. The Devils went on to get embarrassed out of their own rink, losing 6-1 to the Sabres. Starting goalie Johan Hedberg gave up four goals on the first 13 shots he saw and was pulled from the game just eight minutes into the second period.

After the game, Devils head coach John MacLean faced the media to discuss why Kovalchuk was bounced out of the starting lineup, and for Devils fans hoping there would be answers to be had as to why their $100 million man wasn’t on the ice, they’d end up being left frustrated there as well as Tom Gulitti of Fire & Ice finds out.

MacLean would not reveal the specifics behind the decision to sit Kovalchuk, but said it was his decision and no one else’s.

“That’s between him and I,” MacLean said. “That was my decision.”

When asked if it was his decision or management’s decision, MacLean, said “No, it was my decision.”

MacLean said he did not regret that decision, which he made “probably mid-day.”

“I take responsibility for all my decisions that I make. That’s including that decision and including responsibility for games.”

MacLean said he would decide “in the morning” if Kovalchuk will play Sunday night against the Rangers.

When I asked if Kovalchuk was healthy enough to play tonight, MacLean replied, “I’m not getting into it one way or the other. I told you it was a coach’s decision.”

MacLean would not say if the decision was hockey related.

“I’m not discussing it,” MacLean said. “It was my decision. I made it. He knows. I spoke to him and that’s where it’s going to stay.”

Yikes.

The Devils are off to a bad start for the season. Hopes are high in New Jersey for a run at the Stanley Cup, and since the Devils haven’t fared well in the playoffs the last few years, the pressure is on the first-year head coach MacLean. Having to deal with this kind of circus now only amps up the insanity level to a hysterical proportion. Having to deal with a game tomorrow against the Rangers, who are coming in off a 3-2 win over Boston, doesn’t help settle things down at all.

The Devils are a somewhat notoriously secretive team when it comes to dealing with just about any sort of internal news and with such a high-profile player being involved here it’s not a surprise the Devils aren’t talking about what’s going on. That said, after the summer the Devils had in getting things figured out with Kovalchuk, being a little forthcoming with the fans might be a good idea. Keeping things under wraps is just insulting.

Raanta rewards Rangers for starts over Lundqvist by blanking Blackhawks

VANCOUVER, BC - NOVEMBER 15: Goalie Henrik Lundqvist #30 of the New York Rangers shares a laugh with teammate Antti Raanta #32 after defeating the Vancouver Canucks 7-2 in NHL action on November 15, 2016 at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.  (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images)
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If someone told you that the New York Rangers started a goalie on back-to-back nights, and that goalie wasn’t Henrik Lundqvist, you’d probably wonder if he was hurt or retired.

Nope. It just so happens that Antti Raanta is playing at an incredibly high level, Alain Vigneault noticed, and that decision paid dividends on Friday night. Raanta won both nights of a back-to-back, allowing a single goal (with the Rangers protecting him, being that he only needed to stop 43 of 44 shots during that span).

Raanta and the Rangers blanked the Chicago Blackhawks with a 1-0 overtime win, at least briefly climbing to first place in the massively competitive Metro Division:

1. Rangers – 39 points in 29 games played
2. Penguins- 37 points in 27 GP
3. Blue Jackets – 36 points in 25 GP
4. Capitals – 35 points in 26 GP
5. Flyers – 35 points in 29 GP

Nick Holden ended up scoring the only goal of the game:

Meanwhile, the Blackhawks lost but at least salvaged a standings point and it seems like Patrick Kane is OK after this injury scare:

Raanta improved to 7-1-0 on the season, allowing two goals or less in all but one of his appearances so far this season. That’s the kind of work you’d expect to see if you’re going sit a guy who’s, you know, a living legend.

Blue Jackets remain in thick of things in Metro on tough night for Red Wings

DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 01:  Boone Jenner #38 of the Columbus Blue Jackets is congratulated by his teammates after scoring the go ahead goal against the Colorado Avalanche at the Pepsi Center on December 1, 2016 in Denver, Colorado.  (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
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As the Columbus Blue Jackets keep rolling, the Detroit Red Wings are probably just happy to get Friday behind them.

For the second straight game, the Blue Jackets beat their opponent 4-1.

They’re now on a five-game winning streak, and like the climbing St. Louis Blues, things look great if you go back a little further. They’re 10-1-2 in their last 13 games and 13-2-3 since November began.

Columbus is now at 16-5-4, giving them 36 standings points. They’re once again in breathing distance of leading the Metro Division when you consider games in hand.

Update: Here’s how the standings look after the Rangers beat the Blackhawks 1-0 in overtime:

1. Rangers – 39 points in 29 games played
2. Penguins- 37 points in 27 GP
3. Blue Jackets – 36 points in 25 GP
4. Capitals – 35 points in 26 GP
5. Flyers – 35 points in 29 GP

That’s a stout division, and the Blue Jackets remain shockingly effective. Then again, with results like these over and over again, it might be time to merely expect such impressive work.

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For Detroit, it was a rough night. Jonathan Ericsson couldn’t play, Mike Green was a little banged up and Petr Mrazek was pulled for Jimmy Howard. This goal summarized some of their struggles:

Blues blaze through Devils, even in New Jersey

NEWARK, NJ - DECEMBER 09: (L-R) Brad Hunt #77, Robby Fabbri #15 and Vladimir Tarasenko #91 of the St. Louis Blues celebrate Fabri's first period goal against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on December 9, 2016 in Newark, New Jersey.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The New Jersey Devils have been incredibly difficult to beat at home. Lately, the St. Louis Blues have been on a roll just about anywhere.

On Friday night, the Blues were the hotter team, handing the Devils their first home loss in regulation in 2016-17. And it wasn’t particularly close, with St. Louis winning 4-1.

It’s a convenient time to note that the Blues rank among the hottest teams in the NHL. Most recently, they’re 5-1-1 in their last seven games, but they’ve been especially impressive since they flirted with .500 at 7-6-3. Beginning with a 4-1 win against the Buffalo Sabres on Nov. 15, the Blues are on a 8-2-1 tear.

This leaves them second in the Central with a 16-8-4 record.

That’s impressive stuff.

This 4-1 win was quite the showcase for Robby Fabbri and Vladimir Tarasenko, in particular. Tarasenko collected three assists while Fabbri scored two goals on Friday night. His second goal was particularly slick:

The Blues are right in saying that this was a pretty fitting opportunity to drop a “Holy Jumpin.”

Oh yeah, don’t forget about Jake Allen, either.

Leon Draisaitl continues hot streak with silky smooth goal (Video)

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Minnesota Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk has been the most difficult goalies to score against this season. Leave it to a high-level player like Leon Draisaitl to make it look this, well, “easy.”

Draisaitl scored his 13th goal of 2016-17 by capping this pretty give-and-go play with Benoit Pouliot. You can see the frustration from Dubnyk at the end of the tally, as if he was saying “How was I supposed to stop that?” (though probably with more colorful language).

Draisaitl came into Friday with five goals and three assists in his last five games, so he’s been almost unstoppable lately.

Read more about his rise here.

Update: The Wild were able to shake off that goal, ultimately beating the Oilers 3-2 via a shootout.