With Zach Parise out, Devils make Ilya Kovalchuk one of their alternate captains

It’s easy to blame Ilya Kovalchuk for nearly everything that’s going wrong with the New Jersey Devils right now, who will play the Chicago Blackhawks tonight.

Yet it’s clear that New Jersey’s $100 million man isn’t the only issue in the Garden State. The Devils have been besieged by injuries so far, even beyond losing crucial scorer Zach Parise for three months (read the staggering list here). As I pointed out recently, goalie Martin Brodeur hasn’t been himself this season, putting up sub-90 save percentage performances in eight of the games he played so far. Let’s not forget that other star/highly paid players are faltering too.

(For all the horrifying numbers, click here.)

While it’s unfair to place a lot of the blame on Kovalchuk, that’s the nature of the beast and the bottom line is that the Devils need him and Brodeur to lead a charge back into playoff relevance. To underscore the fact that Kovalchuk is a leader for better or worse, Tom Gulitti of Fire & Ice reports that coach John MacLean will keep him as their second alternate captain for “right now.”

“Last game I liked the way Kovy was involved,” MacLean said. “He cares deeply about the team, which is good and, hopefully, we can get the offense going with him and everybody else.”

MacLean said he did not give the A to Kovalchuk to try to motivate him.

“I feel he deserves it,” MacLean said. “He cares about his team and he gives an honest effort when he’s out there.”

Gulitti reports that Kovalchuk will skate on a line with top center Travis Zajac and captain Jamie Langenbrunner tonight, so he will get every chance to help the Devils turn things around.

Gretzky surprised by support from Jets fans heading into Heritage Classic alumni game

EDMONTON, AB - APRIL 6:  Former Edmonton Oilers forward Wayne Gretzky greets fans during the closing ceremonies at Rexall Place following the game between the Edmonton Oilers and the Vancouver Canucks on April 6, 2016 at Rexall Place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. The game was the final game the Oilers played at Rexall Place before moving to Rogers Place next season. (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)
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It’s Heritage Classic weekend in the NHL, which means that there will be an alumni game between the Jets and Oilers on Saturday afternoon.

The rivalry between these two teams has come down a few notches over the years (mainly because the Jets moved to Phoenix), but that doesn’t diminish how intense it used to be.

It was so intense that Wayne Gretzky, who will be dressing for the Oilers alum, was surprised when he was cheered during Friday’s practice at Investors Group Field in Winnipeg.

“I was kind of Public Enemy No. 1 back in the day,” Gretzky said, per “But, that is the way it should be. I was with the other team. When I was in Winnipeg, the people were great to me and they always treated me with respect. You have to cheer for your own team and I understand that.”

It’s not hard to figure out why Gretzky and the Oilers were so hated in Winnipeg during the 1980’s and early 90’s.

Edmonton won five Stanley Cups between 1984 and 1990 and they beat the Jets all six times they met in the playoffs, sweeping four of those.

Gretzky, who’s looking forward to playing against the Jets alumni on Saturday, hasn’t played much hockey since retiring in 1999.

“I don’t play a lot. I skate once a year. I just never really find the energy, the enthusiasm to grab my equipment and say I’m going to go play pickup hockey.

“I played in one outdoor game in Edmonton and it was fun and it was great for hockey. When Winnipeg talked to me about this game a couple years ago, playing in Winnipeg was always fun and when we get together as a team, it is always a unique situation.”

Here are the rosters for this afternoon’s game:

The alumni game gets going at 4:00 p.m. ET.

Kings’ Zatkoff injures groin during morning skate

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 14:  Jeff Zatkoff #37 of the Los Angeles Kings looks on after allowing a goal during the second  period of a game against Philadelphia Flyers  at Staples Center on October 14, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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To say that the Kings haven’t been lucky this season would be an understatement.

Earlier this month, they lost starting goaltender Jonathan Quick for three to four months and now, they may have lost his backup too.

On Saturday, Jeff Zatkoff suffered a groin injury during the team’s morning skate and needed help coming off the ice.

“He stopped a shot, and his groin tightened up,” head coach Darryl Sutter said, per “We’ve seen it in a game, and now we’ve seen it in practice.”

Even with him in goal, the Kings had been struggling mightily since Quick went down.

Zatkoff has an 0-3 record with a 4.37 goals-against-average and a .839 save percentage in 2016-17.

Expect Peter Budaj to make this second consecutive start. He should be backed up by former first rounder Jack Campbell, according to beat reporter Jon Rosen.

Coming into this year, Budaj had made just one NHL start over the last two seasons.

There is a silver lining in all of this mess.

With Campbell being recalled from AHL Ontario, it means that Los Angeles’ minor league goalie coach, Dusty Imoo, will be the backup for his son Jonah in Ontario’s game against the San Jose Barracuda.

Clutterbuck says Barclays Center ice was ‘unplayable’ (again) on Friday

NEW YORK, NY - JULY 08: Players participate in the 2015 New York Islanders Blue & White Rookie Scrimmage & Skills Competition at the Barclays Center on July 8, 2015 in Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The New York Islanders may have won their home game against the Arizona Coyotes on Friday night, but at least one player wasn’t happy with his home rink.

Cal Clutterbuck wasn’t pleased with the quality of the ice and he made it known after the game.

“From about the 5-6 minute mark of the second, you knew it was one of those nights,” Clutterbuck said, per Newsday. “You basically couldn’t string three passes together, the ice was unplayable. But we found a way.”

This is hardly a surprise and it’s not the first time a player has called out the quality of the ice in Brooklyn. Last March, Kyle Okposo mentioned that the ice was “awful”.

We know the ice is bad, but why is it so bad?

Chris Botta reports that the piping system at the Barclays Center isn’t up to NHL standards. The only solution, according to Botta, is to ‘tear up’ the floor of the arena to put in the proper pipes, which is something that should have been done during the off-season.

New York’s next home game is Sunday night against Minnesota.

Daniel Winnik was back at practice just two days after his ear got ‘chewed up’

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 04: Daniel Winnik #26 of the Washington Capitals skates against the New York Rangers at the Verizon Center on March 4, 2016 in Washington, DC. The Rangers defeated the Capitals 3-2. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Hockey players are known for their toughness, but Daniel Winnik is taking it to a whole new level.

The damage was done after Winnik blocked a shot against the Florida Panthers on Thursday night.

After the game, Caps head coach Barry Trotz said his forward had lost a piece of his ear, but it sounds like that wasn’t totally accurate.

“I wouldn’t say I lost a piece of it,” said Winnik, per the Washington Post. “I mean, it’s really chewed up, and obviously some scabs and all of that, but no visible missing piece…The puck hit basically half ear, maybe a little more ear than helmet. Very fortunate it wasn’t way worse.”

He didn’t need any stitches, but they did have to use some glue to patch him up.

To watch how his ear got “chewed up,” click here.

It doesn’t sound like the injury did enough to scare Winnik into putting on a visor or an earpiece.

“I mean, my face has been banged up a lot over the years, and I still haven’t worn a visor. I mean I’ve probably broken my nose like 15 times or something. I just can’t wear it, and the earpieces, I think you’re just used to wearing it for so long without it. I mean you take them out you’re like, ‘Why the hell was I wearing earpieces in the first place?’ But I guess this is kind of an indication on why guys do.”

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