Ilya Kovalchuk

Brown on Kovalchuk: “He’s big, he’s strong, and he’s fast.”


If there’s someone on the Devils roster the Kings are going to want to keep a watchful eye on it’s Ilya Kovalchuk. Kovalchuk is the top point scorer in the postseason and he’s been a monster all playoffs long for New Jersey. He’s also the guy the Kings tried to sign two summers ago as a free agent.

Kings captain Dustin Brown tells Rich Hammond of L.A. Kings Insider Kovalchuk is the sum of all their fears wrapped up in one player.

“Well, he’s big, he’s strong and he’s fast. With Kovalchuk, with his skill level and his skill set, I think it’s important for guys just to get in his way. He’s one of those players who, if you give him the time and space and the open ice to gather up his speed, he’s pretty hard to defend,” Brown said.

“You have to try to slow him down, and that’s a matter of guys stepping in front of him. It sounds repetitive, but it’s the same thing against every team. You’ve got to make it hard on their top players, because if you don’t, they’ll make you pay, maybe even more so with his skill set. It’s probably one of the best individual skill sets we have faced in the playoffs.”

That’s not tire-pumping, that’s real complimentary stuff from Brown. The closest the Kings had to facing an offensive stud like Kovalchuk in the playoffs were the Sedin twins in the first round. St. Louis didn’t have a go-to dominant force and Phoenix’s offense cooled off big in the playoffs.

Kovalchuk along with Zach Parise have the potential to crush the Kings’ Stanley Cup dreams and they’ll have their hands full trying to contain them all.

An encouraging start for the Leafs, except for the blown leads

OTTAWA, ON - OCTOBER 12: Auston Matthews #34 of the Toronto Maple Leafs celebrates his first career NHL goal against the Ottawa Senators with team mates Jake Gardiner #51, Nikita Zaitsev #22 and Martin Marincin #52 at Canadian Tire Centre on October 12, 2016 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images)
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The Toronto Maple Leafs are a young team, and they showed it last night when they jumped out to a 4-0 lead in Winnipeg, only to lose, 5-4, in overtime.

Winnipeg scored three times in the third and Patrik Laine completed his hat trick in overtime, marking the second time this young season that the Jets had won a game they trailed 4-1 after 40 minutes.

“They got better in the third and, in the end, you get what you get,” said Leafs coach Mike Babcock, per the Toronto Sun. “It’s disappointing, you want to shut the game down.”

Frederik Andersen had another tough outing. The Leafs’ starting goalie allowed five goals for the second time this season. After three starts, his save percentage sits at just .876. It’s still very early, and he did play well Saturday, but it’s a story worth monitoring given he’s signed through 2020-21 with a $5 million cap hit.

Overall, though, it’s been an encouraging start for the blue and white. Auston Matthews and William Nylander have been a dangerous duo offensively, even if Babcock would like them to be better defensively. Mitch Marner has shown well; he scored his first NHL goal on Saturday. The Leafs have had a chance to win all three of their games. They did win one of them; they blew third-period leads in the two others, falling both times in overtime.

Toronto plays again tonight in Minnesota, then finishes its road trip Saturday in Chicago.

Backup Jhonas Enroth is scheduled to be in goal against the Wild, his first regular-season start as a Leaf.

Auditions for Gaudreau-Monahan linemate in Calgary continue

CALGARY, AB - JANUARY 7: Johnny Gaudreau #13 (L) of the Calgary Flames confers with his teammate Sean Monahan #23 during a break in play against the Detroit Red Wings during an NHL game at Scotiabank Saddledome on January 7, 2015 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
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One of the most appealing — and vacant — forward positions in the league will have a new look on Thursday night, as Alex Chiasson gets his chance to skate with Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan on Calgary’s top line.

That spot was initially held by Kris Versteeg, who turned down a contract in Edmonton partly because of the opportunity to play with Gaudreau and Monahan. Versteeg got his shot, but didn’t have much success — no goals, just one assist through the first four games — and was replaced by Chiasson during Tuesday’s 4-3 OT win over the Sabres.

Chiasson, 26, is an interesting candidate. He broke into the NHL with Dallas under current Flames head coach Glen Gulutzan — scoring six goals and seven points in seven games — and has, at times, shown offensive promise.

He scored 13 goals and 35 points for the Stars during the ’13-14 campaign, and 11 goals and 26 points for Ottawa two years ago. The Boston University product fell on hard times after that, though — his offense really dried up for the Sens last season, and he was flipped to Calgary in exchange for d-man Patrick Sieloff.

The goal, it would seem, is to find the next Jiri Hudler. The veteran Czech winger enjoyed a terrific year playing with Gaudreau and Monahan in ’14-15, scoring a career-high 31 goals and 76 points.

NHL, NHLPA launch program to ‘help players reach their full potential on and off the ice’

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 29:  Bill Daly and Mathieu Schneider present Sidney Crosby #87 of Team Canada with the World Cup of Hockey Championship trophy after his teams win over Team Europe during Game Two of the World Cup of Hockey final series at the Air Canada Centre on September 29, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. The Team Canada defeated Team Europe 2-1.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The NHL and NHLPA have launched a program designed to help players plan their post-hockey careers long before they hang up their skates.

The Core Development Program will give players avenues to further their education, network and find out what jobs they may be suited for, such as finance and broadcasting. League and NHL Players Association officials say the program announced Thursday targets young players, not just those in the twilight of their careers.

“The sooner they can start focusing on the longer term, the better off they’ll generally be – as much in their careers as after their careers,” deputy commissioner Bill Daly said by phone.

This new endeavor is independent of the NHL Alumni’s Break Away program that focuses on player transitions once they retire. Most professional leagues have a similar process, but the NHL and NHLPA believe their program for current players is unique.

The voluntary program was spawned from player feedback. Several retired players have said they wished something like this existed.

Former player Mathieu Schneider, now the NHLPA’s special assistant to the executive director, hopes the program benefits players on the ice, too.

“There have been studies done that show that players that are prepared for life after sports, after their careers, actually perform better during their careers,” Schneider said. “Maybe it alleviates the anxiety or the some of the pressure that might come normally. I think generally guys just have that awareness that, yes, it is an important part of the development of pro athletes.”

Some players have taken their own initiative in establishing non-hockey interests during their playing days, such as Boston Bruins captain Zdeno Chara getting his real estate license. Longtime forward Jeff Halpern, now an assistant coach for the American Hockey League’s Syracuse Crunch, said examples such as Chara are the best ways to sell this program to current players.

“I think it’s great because a lot of guys, I think, are just scared of what happens after they’re done playing,” said Washington Capitals defenseman Nate Schmidt, who’s currently studying for his real estate exam. “Even for a guy that has a college degree, I’m kind of nervous for when that day might come.”

Dumba to be healthy scratch for Wild, is ‘trying to do too much’

Minnesota Wild defenseman Mathew Dumba (55) dumps the puck behind Los Angeles Kings left wing Dwight King (74) during the second period of an NHL hockey game in St. Paul, Minn., Wednesday, Nov. 26, 2014. (AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt)
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Matt Dumba turned 22 in July, so he’s still pretty young for an NHL defenseman. But for a seventh overall draft pick, the Minnesota Wild might’ve expected him to be making more of an impact by now.

Alas, Dumba will be a healthy scratch tonight at home against Toronto. He’ll be replaced by AHL call-up Mike Reilly.

“Dumba is going to be a really good player,” said coach Bruce Boudreau, per Michael Russo of the Star Tribune. “He is right now. He’s trying to do too much. We just want him to calm it down.”

The 2012 draft was notable for the eight defensemen that were taken with the first 10 picks. Four years later, some of them have panned out, like Morgan Rielly (fifth overall) and Hampus Lindholm (sixth). Some of them haven’t, like Griffin Reinhart (fourth). But for most of them, it remains to be seen what they’ll ultimately become. Dumba is in that boat, along with Ryan Murray (second), Derrick Pouliot (eighth), Jacob Trouba (ninth), and Slater Koekkoek (10th). Even Reinhart may figure it out, though it doesn’t look good right now.

Dumba signed a two-year, $5.1 contract extension over the summer. It was the kind of deal that highly touted young players sign when they still have something to prove, which Dumba clearly does.