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.