Buffalo Sabres v New Jersey Devils

Looking for someone to blame for Devils bad season? Kovalchuk says to blame him

We’ve talked a lot (too much?) about the struggles of the New Jersey Devils this year. If it weren’t for the Islanders, they’d be sitting at the bottom of the Eastern Conference and as it is, they’re 15 points out of the eighth spot in the East. Times are bad in New Jersey and while fans can point the finger at injuries to the defense and to Martin Brodeur and to a severe lack of offense as to why the team is failing so badly, one player has stepped up to take the blame.

Ilya Kovalchuk, he of the $100 million contract this off-season and 11 points this season, wants to take the heat for the team doing so badly this year. He also wants to show you that when a team struggles, it’s something that effects a player personally. Dave Hutchinson of The Star-Ledger gets the honest take from Kovalchuk about how bad things have gone so far in New Jersey.

Who can forget him losing control of the puck during a critical shootout loss to the Buffalo Sabres at the Prudential Center and being booed off the ice? And what about his decision to pass instead of shoot against the Penguins on Monday night, turning it into a Pittsburgh goal in a 2-1 loss?

“I’ve never had problems with sleeping, but this year I have a little bit,” Kovalchuk said yesterday in a quiet moment at his locker following practice at AmeriHealth Pavilion. “It’s tough.”

There’s no doubt that Kovalchuk is squeezing the stick a lot in trying to breakout for the Devils. Kovalchuk is all too familiar with playing on teams that are doing poorly in the standings after spending most of his career in Atlanta. Then again, he was never on a team that’s been this bad before and he was never signed to a franchise-altering mega-contract there either.

As for the Devils offense that ranks out as the second-worst in the NHL with 50 goals scored in 27 games, Kovalchuk doesn’t make any excuses for how poor they’ve been.

“I’ll take all the responsibility for that, that’s why I’m here,” said Kovalchuk, who scored 41 goals last season between the Thrashers and Devils. “That’s what the team wants from me: Create chances for myself and my linemates. But we’re not there yet. We just have to keep working hard.”

It’s refreshing to see a player be as honest as Kovalchuk is being in talking about the team’s struggles. So often when things are bad you’ll see a player dance around the subject or even start pointing the finger elsewhere. Kovalchuk, however, is owning it. The Devils are dealing with injuries all through the lineup, most importantly to fellow offensive threat Zach Parise. Martin Brodeur makes his return tomorrow against Ottawa so that’s one piece back and while defensemen Matt Taormina and Anssi Salmela work their way back, things are slowly getting into place elsewhere in the lineup.

Of course, those guys aren’t getting paid $100 million to score 40 goals a year either. Kovalchuk settling down and snapping out of his funk is vital to the Devils bouncing back and climbing out of the cellar. Guys like Kovalchuk aren’t kept bottled up for very long. 11 points in 26 games is a dreadful stretch for a superstar like Kovalchuk, the Devils just have to hope he starts hitting his stride before they’re too far out of the playoff hunt.

Goalie injury wave hits Boston, Subban recalled on emergency basis

Malcolm Subban
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The injury bug that’s sweeping NHL creases has hit Boston.

Ahead of Tuesday’s home tilt against the Wild, the Bruins — without the services of Tuukka Rask and Anton Khudobin — goalie recalled Malcolm Subban from AHL Providence.

It wasn’t immediately clear what happened to Khudobin, who played in Saturday’s 4-2 loss to Montreal. Rask, who hasn’t suited up since Thursday’s win over New Jersey, was absent from practice with no clear word on what his ailment is.

All this points to Subban, 22, potentially making his second career start tomorrow night against Minnesota. The former first-round pick’s had a nightmare start to the year in Providence, going 0-3-1 with a 4.50 GAA and .846 save percentage.

“I don’t know if he’s where he wants to be or where we want him to be,” head coach Kevin Dean said, per the Journal.

As mentioned above, Boston isn’t the only team dealing with goalie injuries at the moment. The L.A. Kings are without Jonathan Quick and Jeff Zatkoff, forcing No. 3 netminder Peter Budaj into the starting role.

The Coyotes have listed injured starter Mike Smith as week-to-week with a lower-body ailment, the Penguins are still without Matt Murray (hand) and Nashville had to play without Pekka Rinne on Saturday night, as he dealt with a bout of food poisioning.

‘Lots of try,’ but Coyotes still winless on tough road trip

New York Rangers' Josh Jooris, right,reacts after scoring past Arizona Coyotes goalie Louis Domingue during the first period of the NHL hockey game, Sunday, Oct. 23, 2016, in New York. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
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Two more games and it’s over.

Two more games and the Arizona Coyotes can go home.

The ‘Yotes lost their fourth straight road game Sunday in New York, falling 3-2 to the Rangers. They play at New Jersey tomorrow and at Philadelphia Thursday. Then, mercifully, the six-game trip will be done.

“We knew this was going to be a tough trip,” head coach Dave Tippett said, per the Arizona Republic. “We were going to find out about our team. Every game we find out a little more. There’s some areas that are improving. There’s some areas that still need lots of work. We got lots of players that are getting good experience right now.”

The Coyotes actually played quite well in New York. The game was tied, 2-2, until Dan Girardi scored early in the third. Arizona ended up outshooting the Rangers, 29-26.

But a 1-4-0 record has the Coyotes in last place in the Pacific Division. It’s an early hole for this young team, with five rookies on the roster, including three teenagers. And even when they finally get home, tough games await against Colorado, San Jose, and Nashville.

“Lots of try in our group. Lots of try,” Tippett said. “But we’re giving up three goals a game now. We gotta find a way to be better defensively.”

Arizona’s next opponent, New Jersey, isn’t the most offensive team in the league. In fact, the Devils rank dead last in scoring, with just eight goals in five games. And the Flyers haven’t been all that great either.

So perhaps the Coyotes can still salvage something from this trip. It’s been a tough one so far, but end it on a high and the flight home will be that much more enjoyable.

Related: The Coyotes are in a tough spot

Isles bring back Steve Bernier on two-way deal

NEWARK, NJ - SEPTEMBER 25:  Steve Bernier #16 of the New York Islanders skates against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on September 25, 2015 in Newark, New Jersey. The Devils defeated the Islanders 4-2.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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After attending training camp on a PTO, Steve Bernier has signed with the Isles.

On Monday, the club announced Bernier had agreed to a one-year, two-way deal, which gives him a second go-round with the club. Last year the veteran forward caught on with the club and proceeded to score six points in 24 regular-season games, and appear in six playoff contests.

A former first-round pick, Bernier’s deal comes with the Isles dealing with a few injuries up front — Shane Prince is currently week-to-week with a lower-body injury, and Mikhail Grabovski is out indefinitely with post-concussion symptoms.

The Bernier deal could also give the Isles flexibility with their two 19-year-old rookies, Anthony Beauvillier and Mathew Barzal, as both are eligible to be returned to junior (and the Isles would prevent “burning” a year on their entry-level deals if they do it before the nine-game threshold.)

That said, Beauvillier is off to a terrific start, with five points through five games. Barzal has been less effective, dressing just once.



With three straight wins, the Oilers have ‘responded well’ to the Buffalo debacle

WINNIPEG, MANITOBA - OCTOBER 23: Oscar Klefbom #77 of the Edmonton Oilers congratules Cam Talbot #33 on his shutout against the Winnipeg Jets during the 2016 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic hockey game on October 23, 2016 at Investors Group Field in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. (Photo by Jason Halstead /Getty Images)
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The Edmonton Oilers improved to 5-1-0 with Sunday’s outdoor shutout of the Jets. They’ve now won three straight since getting embarrassed, 6-2, at home by the Sabres, leaving head coach Todd McLellan quite satisfied with the response he’s seen from his group.

“I thought we started the season sloppily and (still) won games,” said McLellan. “We gave up a lot of opportunities and chances. We were very sleepy and casual against Buffalo, and we went after the group pretty hard. But after that, we responded well, and we played three pretty good teams over the last little bit and played the game a lot better.”

Since the debacle versus Buffalo, the Oilers have beaten the Hurricanes, Blues and Jets, all in regulation. Goalie Cam Talbot has been excellent, improving his save percentage on the season to .919. Over the past three games, it’s been .970.

“I think it started after that Buffalo game that none of us were happy with obviously, so we knew we had to address some things after that,” said Talbot. “We came out Tuesday hard against a tough Carolina team, got a 3-0 lead and kind of let them back in the game there. We talked about it again after that game that we’re going to have to tighten up when we do have these leads, and Thursday was a big win against St. Louis going 1-1 into the third, getting a lead and then holding onto it. And then tonight we took it to another level (with a 3-0 win).”

There are still concerns, to be sure. At five-on-five, the Oilers rank 23rd in Corsi, per Natural Stat Trick, and that’s often a better predictor of success than a team’s record. Overall this season, the Oilers have surrendered more shots (199) than they’ve registered themselves (173).

So while happy, McLellan was careful not to spread the praise too lavishly.

“Do we make mistakes? Of course we do, and when we do, we seem to have a goaltender that makes some pretty good saves, which is nice to have,” he said. “But we’re a growth team. I wouldn’t consider us a championship team or anything like that right now. We’re still a growth team. We’re learning how to do things.”