As far as go-to whipping boys go, Ilya Kovalchuk provides a desirable target for critics. Let’s go over the checklist:
He’s not Canadian or American* (check)
Bloated $100 million contract (check)
Lack of playoff success (check)
For a good chunk of his stay in New Jersey, “underwhelming performance” was one of those bullet points, but there’s no sense making that argument anymore.
Kovalchuk scored his first hat trick as a member of the Devils tonight to trigger a 4-1 win against the Buffalo Sabres. Such a performance makes me wonder aloud: is Kovalchuk inching his way into the Hart Trophy discussion?
In the past, the only measuring stick for his success could be found in scoring. He’s holding up his end of the bargain in that regard, as Kovalchuk has 25 goals and 56 points. Those 56 points are good for ninth overall in the NHL, but in the context of the New Jersey Devils offense, it’s even more impressive; Kovalchuk has factored into 35.4 percent of the team’s goals this season.
Kovalchuk is called upon to do more than just fill the net in New Jersey, though. His 24:48 minutes per game ranks 16th among all NHL skaters and No. 1 in the forward ranks.
It’s not just “glory boy” time, either, as he’s killing penalties for more than a minute (1:10) per contest. That’s not going to get him in the running for the Selke – and teammate Zach Parise nearly doubles his PK time average with 2:10 per game – but it still shows that he’s bringing more to the table than many might expect.
Not quite there yet
If I was part of the voting process, Kovalchuk wouldn’t be in my top three. He might not even be in my top 10 right now – but that could change if he stays hot.
That probably doesn’t matter a whole lot to the Devils, though, as that $100 million deal is only looking half-crazy right now (by my estimation). Where does Kovalchuk rank on your list, though?
* – Look, I don’t like it either, but you’d be naive to believe that there aren’t some pundits who let their “nationalist” colors fly.
WATCH LIVE: Bruins, Capitals look to advance to Round 2
Heading into this season, Braden Holtby‘s calling card was consistency. Maybe he didn’t churn out the absolute best campaign every time, but in winning at least 41 games and generating at least a .923 save percentage from 2014-15 to 2016-17, Holtby put in elite work like clockwork for the Washington Capitals.
The 2017-18 season, meanwhile, has been more like a roller coaster ride.
The Capitals won the Metropolitan Division once again, but sometimes that success came despite Holtby. He managed 34 wins, yet Holtby struggled with a backup-level .907 save percentage, confessing to fatigue when things really slipped.
Things hit their lowest point toward the end of 2017-18, as impressive backup Philipp Grubauer outright won the Capitals’ starting job, suiting up as the top goalie for Washington’s first two playoff games against Columbus. Of course, both of those games ended in losses, and ultimately opened the door for Holtby to redeem himself.
So far, Holtby’s done more than that. Rather than merely grabbing the starting job, the 28-year-old is looking a lot like the elite goalie we’ve almost come to expect in a time when goalie output can be downright erratic.
Holtby stepped in for Grubauer in Game 2, giving up a goal on eight shots as the Blue Jackets won 5-4 in overtime. Things have picked up since Holtby was in net from the start, which really makes sense since the Capitals netminder is known for his focus.
The Capitals won three straight games to take their current 3-2 series lead, and Holtby’s been outstanding, holding up to the pressure of having little room for error. Two of the past three wins have been in overtime, while only one of Holtby’s appearances didn’t involve a game going beyond regulation (five of the series’ six games hit OT overall).
So far through four games and three starts, Holtby’s stopped 102 out of 109 shots for a splendid save percentage of .936.
Maybe the standout moments came during the third period of Game 5. While a deft Oliver Bjorkstrand deflection eluded Holtby early on in the third, Holtby was the reason Washington was able to survive into overtime, as the Blue Jackets generated an absurd 16-1 shots on goal advantage during that span.
It’s easy to consider the Capitals’ history of playoff disappointments and assume that Holtby’s failed to convert regular season brilliance to strong postseason goaltending, yet Holtby’s long been a dependable presence when the games matter the most.
Playing at such a high level clearly takes its toll, and you wonder if recent setbacks might serve as a blessing in disguise for Holtby.
Most directly, he got a breather down the stretch, which is significant considering the workload he’s carried the past few seasons.
Beyond that, watching playoff games from the bench had to light a fire under him, possibly reminding him of the earlier days of his career when little was certain. After all, Holtby had to earn his spot as a fourth-round pick (93rd overall in 2008).
Goalies might be creatures of habit who prefer getting the most reps and knowing when their starts are coming, but perhaps it’s human nature to fall into a routine and not be at your very best, particularly when you’re serving as a workhorse goalie.
Whatever the case may be, Holtby’s playing some of his best hockey, and that’s making the Capitals a tough team to beat. If the Blue Jackets want to avoid elimination tonight, they’ll need to get the best of Holtby. That appears to be a far tougher task in April than it seemed to be mere months ago.
Any time one of the Battle of Pennsylvania participants can get one up on the other, they celebrate having bragging rights loudly and proudly.
The Pittsburgh Penguins eliminated the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday in six games in their first-round matchup and as you can imagine, the Steel City faithful have been enjoying it. On top of winning back-to-back Stanley Cups, they’ve also been able to relish winning three of the last four series that these teams have played.
“Help us send our condolences to the Philadelphia Flyers and their fans, with these custom prayer cards memorializing their run in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Share for all of our friends in Philly!” read the caption of their Facebook post.
The Flyers have lost six times in the Stanley Cup Final since winning back-to-back titles in 1974 and 1975. The Penguins, meanwhile, have won five championships in six Final appearances since 1991, something that’s certainly never been lost on the city in their battles with Philadelphia over the years.
Now Flyers fans can root for their second favorite hockey team: “Anyone playing the Penguins.”
The search for a new head coach lasted less than a week with Calgary Flames general manager Brad Treliving having interest in hiring only one man — Bill Peters.
It was six days ago that Treliving canned Gulutzan and said his next head coach would have NHL experience. Peters would decide on Friday to opt-out of the final year of his deal with the Carolina Hurricanes, which also meant walking away from a guaranteed $1.6 million salary for 2018-19. He immediately became favorite and the only candidate for the job.
“This is an individual I’m familiar with. This is the individual at the time once we made a change I was focused upon,” Treliving said on Monday. “I was very familiar with the field that was out there. There’s some great candidates. I was focused on Bill.”
Peters, who is an Alberta native and worked with Treliving at the 2016 IIHF World Championships, comes with four seasons of experience as an NHL head coach having led the Carolina Hurricanes since 2014-15. Those four seasons weren’t very successful, however, as the team finished with a combined 137-138-53 record and zero playoff appearances.
That lack of success wasn’t enough to deter Treliving from making the hire. The decision was based more on their brief time together on Canada’s staff two years ago and intel the GM has gathered over the years.
“He’s prepared. I think he’s a student of the modern game. I think he’s relationship-driven with players,” Treliving said. “He’s honest and direct, and as you’ll quickly come to realize, he’s going to be a tremendous addition to our staff.”
“We’re going to play a game that’s puck possession, ‘D’ active. Face-offs are important — that’s your first 50/50 battle of your shift is a face-off,” Peters said. “I want to have the puck, I want to possess the puck. I want to make sure we have value on the puck when we have it, make good plays, strong plays with it, be hard on it, be a hard team to play against, take advantage of playing on the good ice at the Saddledome.”
While Carolina’s offensive numbers were fine under Peters, the defensive side did not improve. Yeah, there was some terrible goaltending that was a hindrance but the shot suppression did not get better with the Hurricanes allowing an average of 2.02 even strength shots more per game from Year 1 to Year 4.
Peters takes over a Flames team that saw a second half swoon destroy their playoff hopes and lead to the dismissal of their head coach. In Carolina, there was hope in the early days for growth with a young roster, but after a lack of progress as expectations increased during his tenure, it was clear what he was implementing wasn’t working and he could not get through to his players.
Wanting to be a top-10 team in primary statisical categories, the expectations are even higher now for Peters to succeed with the Flames. Will he get a different response here in Calgary compared to Carolina?
“I want to be a team that gets off to a good start, sustains that quality start and has a playoff spot wrapped up and you’re fighting for home ice,” Peters said. “That’s what I would love to see.”