kovalchuk10minutes

Streaking Kovalchuk starting to earn his money from Devils

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Take Ilya Kovalchuk’s statistics for the entire season and a fan might think he’s been an incredible disappointment. Chances are you wouldn’t have found much argument for the first three months of the season—especially not from Devils fans themselves. But going into tonight’s game against the equally hot Boston Bruins, the Devils (and Kovalchuk) are rapidly becoming the biggest story in the NHL.

The last two months have been something completely different for fans in the Garden State. Starting with a back-to-back against Tampa Bay on January 9th, New Jersey has looked like a completely different team. We’re talking polar opposites like if the Oilers woke up tomorrow morning and started playing like the Vancouver Canucks for the next couple of months. Everything has been different. Instead of watching the puck fill up their own net, the Devils have tightened up in their own zone and are playing the style of hockey that has made them one of the most successful teams over the last 15 years.

That small $100 million acquisition they made in the offseason? He’s starting to earn his way, as well.

Matthew Barnaby said over the weekend that Ilya Kovalchuk has been the best player in the entire league over the last two months. The key to his statement was that he’s been one of the league’s best “players,” not one of the league’s best “scorers.” Since Jacques Lemaire has taken the helm in New Jersey, Kovalchuk has been responsible in his own end and has cut down on the cherry-picking that would put his teammates at a disadvantage in their own zone. Obviously he’ll never been a Selke Trophy type player, but when he’s not a liability in the defensive zone the team thrives as a whole.

Kovalchuk’s dedication to being a more well-rounded player while keeping his explosiveness hasn’t gone unnoticed. Lemaire is certainly pleased to have him around:

“Kovy is a different player. Kovy can do a lot of things on his own. He’s got a knack for scoring and making plays. That’s why he’s getting so much money.”

The numbers back up the coach. Since the team has turned things around, Kovalchuk has been leading the charge offensively. During the Devils 18-2-2 stretch, the Russian has 12 goals, 12 assists, and owns a +12 rating. Not too bad considering he only had 10 goals, 21 points, and a -30 rating through the first 40 games of the season.

Everyone knows the Devils have been a completely different team—but it’s time to take notice that Kovalchuk has been a completely different player. He has 5 game-winning goals in the last 11 games; his 8 game-winning goals are 2nd in the league trailing only Alexander Ovechkin. Not too bad for a team that couldn’t win early in the season. When the Devils win, one of the major reasons is because Ilya Kovalchuk is scoring.

When the Devils are on their game, everyone knows they’ll play low-scoring contests and will have a very small margin for error. When they can get their superstar to score a point-per-game and hold the opposition to under 2 goals, they’re going to win quite a few games—like 18 out of 22. When a player is putting his team on his back, he’s a difference maker.

A $100 million difference maker.

Just another big game for Filip Forsberg

GLENDALE, AZ - DECEMBER 10:  Filip Forsberg #9 of the Nashville Predators during the NHL game against the Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena on December 10, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona. The Coyotes defeated the Predators 4-1.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Filip Forsberg‘s bid for a hat trick in three consecutive games didn’t quite pan out Saturday. Fear not, he still had a three-point night.

The 22-year-old Forsberg has been lighting it up of late for the Predators. He had back-to-back hat tricks already this week, the first player to do so since 2010. He then helped lead the way against the Washington Capitals on Saturday, with a goal and two assists in a 5-2 win over the best team in the NHL.

That’s nine points in the last three games and 10 points in the last four games for Forsberg. The win pushes Nashville back into third in the Central Division — two points better than St. Louis and 12 points back of second place Chicago.

Of course there was animosity late in the game when it appeared the Predators were too far out of reach of the Capitals, as Tom Wilson decided to fight Mike Fisher.

After falling behind in the second period, the Capitals thought they had closed the gap early in the third period only to have video review from a coach’s challenge determine Alex Ovechkin was just offside at the blue line, overturning the original call.

 

Video: Manning crushes Guentzel with massive hit

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The Penguins were up in arms after Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Brandon Manning crushed Jake Guentzel with a hit that appeared both high and late during the second period of Saturday’s Stadium Series game at Heinz Field.

There was no call on the play — the main objection from Pittsburgh’s bench immediately after the hit.

Guentzel had just moved the puck to a nearby linemate as the play transitioned into the neutral zone when Manning threw the hit, sending Guentzel hard to the ice.

Guentzel, for now at least, appears to have gotten the last laugh. He returned and recorded the primary assist on Nick Bonino‘s goal, which gave Pittsburgh a 2-0 lead.

Philly has since cut into the Pittsburgh lead.

Quick wins in his return, Kings rally versus Ducks

Los Angeles Kings center Anze Kopitar, of Slovenia, and goalie Jonathan Quick congratulate each other after defeating the Dallas Stars in an NHL hockey game, Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2016, in Los Angeles. The Kings won 3-2. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
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Welcome back, Jonathan Quick.

Starting for the first time since Oct. 12 — an absence of 59 games due to a groin injury — Quick was solid in his return against the Anaheim Ducks on Saturday. He stopped 32 shots, allowing for the Kings to eventually find some offense in a 4-1 victory over their California rivals.

The Kings trailed going into the third period, but came alive with four unanswered goals for an important win in the Western Conference playoff race. Tyler Toffoli scored twice and Jeff Carter secured the win with his 30th goal of the season — after he appeared dazed in a fight with Ryan Kesler earlier in the game.

In typical fashion, tempers boiled over between these two teams. In typical fashion, Corey Perry was once again at the center of the mayhem. He tripped Anze Kopitar in the second period, leading to a melee before Brayden McNabb and Nate Thompson paired off in the main event.

“I think the game kind of led to the third. I thought we were playing great leading up to it,” said Quick, per LA Kings Insider.

“We were creating chances, played hard, heavy and I think if we don’t play like that in the first two periods we don’t get four in the third so we got rewarded for our work over 60 minutes.”

Again, this is a big win for the Kings.

Getting back into the top three in the Pacific Division seems like a tall, if not impossible order with 21 games remaining on their schedule and only four wins in their last 10 games. Anaheim, third in the division, is 10 points ahead.

But this win does help the Kings in their bid for a wild card spot.

They are only three points back of St. Louis for the final playoff spot in the conference. Nashville was victorious over Washington a few hours after L.A. defeated Anaheim, so the Predators move into third in the Central.

Quick winning in his return is huge news for the Kings. But more importantly, the players they rely on for offensive production came through. Kopitar had two assists. Carter had a two-point night. Ditto for Toffoli. Tanner Pearson had three assists.

It’s been a lack of production from top players that coach Darryl Sutter has lamented during his team’s recent struggles.

“It’s the only way we’re going to make the playoffs. Those guys held scoreless or shut down or outplayed by the other team’s top guys, we won’t make the playoffs,” said Sutter.

“They have to.”

WATCH LIVE: Flyers at Penguins from Heinz Field

PHILADELPHIA, PA - APRIL 15: Claude Giroux #28 of the Philadelphia Flyers and Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins go toe-to-toe prior to fighting during the first period in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Wells Fargo Center on April 15, 2012 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins are going to take their rivalry outside on Saturday.

The Flyers visit the Penguins in a Stadium Series clash at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, beginning at 8 p.m. ET. You can catch the action on NBC or online with the NBC Sports Live Extra.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

Here are some links to check out for tonight’s game:

Goalie nods: Murray, Neuvirth get the call at Heinz Field

Kris Letang won’t play in outdoor game; Schultz game-time decision

NHL On NBC: Penguins, Flyers meet in Stadium Series

Giroux: ‘It’s all business’ between Penguins and Flyers at Heinz Field