If there’s anything to be gleaned from the New Jersey Devils through their first four games of the season, it’s that head coach Peter DeBoer is skating the everloving snot out of Ilya Kovalchuk.
Kovalchuk heads into tonight’s contest against the Sharks averaging an eye-popping 27 minutes per game, fourth-most in the NHL. Only three players average more, and they’re all defensemen. The only forward that’s even remotely close to Kovalchuk is LA Kings C Anze Kopitar, and he’s at 22:43 a night.
That’s almost four-and-a-half minutes less than Kovi.
“The season just started, so it’s too early to say anything, but it works,” Kovalchuk told NHL.com. “The team played well and the coach decided to play me a lot of minutes. I was ready for it and I like to play a lot.”
The imbalanced allotment of ice time might seem strange, but it’s hardly new for DeBoer. While he didn’t have a ton of talented players in Florida, he certainly made use of the ones he did have. Jay Bouwmeester averaged 27 a night under Deboer and Nathan Horton averaged over 21. Last season, Stephen Weiss averaged over 20 minutes a game for the first time in his career.
But all those pale in comparison to Kovalchuk, who will enter some rare company should he continue this pace. Since the lockout, only a handful of forwards have averaged over 24 minutes with Martin St. Louis (2007-08) and Rod Brind’Amour (2005-06) setting the high marks at 24:17 per game.
Brayden Schenn had a big game in Thursday’s 5-4 loss to the Arizona Coyotes.
He scored a goal and had two assists in the defeat, but he also dropped the gloves with rookie Jakob Chychrun.
As you can tell by the video at the top of the page, Chychrun went after Schenn because the Flyers forward flattened Coyotes defenseman Michael Stone (Chychrun got two additional minutes for instigating and a 10-minute misconduct).
The fight occurred just as Martin Hanzal scored to the go-ahead goal in the game.
The officials reviewed it to see if it would stand or not (ultimately it did).
The momentum swung Arizona’s way after that, as they scored 1:39 later to extend their lead to 4-2.
PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.
–How do you decide who gets to be the last player off the ice after warmups? Play rock, paper, scissors of course! (Top)
—Connor McDavid has the city of Edmonton buzzing again. (The New York Times)
–The fight against Alzheimer’s means a lot to Leafs president Brendan Shanahan. (Sports Illustrated)
–Justin Bieber played hockey with a pro team in the UK and pulled off a serious celebration. (BarDown)
–Would Wayne Gretzky have set all those records if he was playing in today’s NHL? Mike Brophy weighs in. (CBC.ca)
–Six forgotten players that are off to fast starts in 2016-17. (USA Today)
How would you describe the Nashville Predators’ Stanley Cup bandwagon at the moment? A few flat tires? One of those abandoned school buses at a dump?
An unlikely occurrence – Peter Budaj winning four straight games for the Los Angeles Kings, all in overtime, all seriously in 2016 – puts a spotlight on an unsightly start for Nashville following a 3-2 OT decision.
In other words, it was another night where the Predators (early or not) didn’t look the part of Stanley Cup contenders.
Pekka Rinne has often been the scapegoat for Nashville’s losses, and his recent numbers justify some of the criticisms. Thursday doesn’t fall into that pattern, however. Instead, the Predators wasted a strong performance from their $7 million man, who stopped 42 out of 45 shots.
Budaj? He only needed to make 24 out of 26 stops to keep his unexpected winning streak going.
For the Kings and Predators, very different patterns continued on Thursday night.
Los Angeles has people wondering “How long can they win with Budaj?” and “Is there a team that can finally hog the puck against the Kings enough to expose him?” Don’t blame Kings fans who never want this strange sequence to end.
Nashville devotees, on the other hand, must wonder if they’re stuck in some sort of sick nightmare.
They’ve been a chic pick to win it all, yet they’re now at 2-4-1 with three away contests remaining on a challenging five-game road trip.
It’s early, but the headaches just keep multiplying for the Preds.
Are the Detroit Red Wings for real or are they headed toward a humbling regression? We might have to wait until their goalies look human before that question can really be answered.
For yet another game, Detroit’s netminder was outstanding, with Petr Mrazek helping the Red Wings beat the St. Louis 2-1 via a shootout (and a pretty stressful shootout in that).
It took eight rounds until Henrik Zetterberg managed Detroit’s second and decisive tally of the “skills competition,” and now Detroit is on a six-game winning streak.
Mrazek made 31 out of 32 games through overtime and was only beaten by Alex Steen in that shootout, stopping seven of eight attempts. He’s faced more than 30 shots on goal in all six of his appearances in 2016-17.
It is not as if there has been a big drop-off when Jimmy Howard has taken the net, either. Howard has only given up one goal in his two games, winning both of them.
Are the Red Wings asking a lot of Mrazek and Howard? Yep. Just take a look a this lopsided possession chart from Natural Stat Trick for another reminder.
You can see why skeptics murmur about this six-game winning streak being fool’s gold, but the Red Wings keep finding a way to win. Usually, it’s their goalies who have been doing the heavy lifting.