Kovalchuk Injury will test the New Jersey Devils

Pittsburgh Penguins v New Jersey Devils

Coping with adversity, be it a tough loss, crummy power play or devastating injury is just part of doing business in the NHL these days where the compacted schedule makes every win sweeter and every setback more devastating.

So, the New Jersey Devils have a big reason to fear a prolonged absence from Ilya Kovalchuk after he was injured in a 2-1 victory over the Florida Panthers Saturday night, just as there is cause to celebrate the fact Martin Brodeur has surrendered just two goals in his first game back from injury.

The Devils’ offense, which has sputtered for much of the season, isn’t going to get better with Kovalchuk, one of the league’s top offensive talents — and a slumping one this season, — sitting out. But having Brodeur able to slam the door to the tune of one goal against should be a huge, huge factor in this stretch drive where the goal is to get to the Stanley Cup Playoffs and then take things from there.

Kovalchuk has 10 goals and 17 assists in 32 games this season, decent numbers, but somewhat disappointing considering he played at a very impressive level in the Kontinental Hockey League during the foolhardy NHL owners’ lockout that has resulted in this truncated North American season. But disappointing or not, the Devils can ill afford to be without such a talented player. But as coach Pete DeBoer told reporters after the win over the Panthers, this is all part of equation this season.

“Injuries are a part of this,” DeBoer said. “Everybody is dealing with them, so I think we have to be prepared for that.”

“I think mentally coming into the season we’re prepared that we’re going to have to lose key people and be able to survive it. So no one is feeling sorry for yourself, and we’ll get through it.”

Kovalchuk appeared to injure his right shoulder when he crashed into the boards behind the Florida net. DeBoer said he will miss “at least a short time.” That appeared to be confirmed when reporters saw him leave the rink with a team doctor with his right arm in a sling.

But as DeBoer pointed out, there is no time to feel sorry for yourself. With Kovalchuk out, the onus falls on Patrik Elias, Travis Zajac and David Clarkson to raise their games. Thankfully for the Devils, Zajac appears to be getting his game together. He assisted on the goals by Elias and Clarkson that got New Jersey over the hump against Florida and now has a goal and four assist in the last three games.

“He’s playing well,” Elias told Tom Gulitti of the Bergen Record. “He’s playing better with the puck. He makes the plays. Even on my goal, he held on to it for that split second to give me a little better chance to get in better position on that play. He’s skating better, he’s working hard and he’s on the puck so that’s good.”

“It’s been a good last couple of games,” Zajac told Gulitti. “We’re doing some little things right and we’re getting rewarded for it, but we can still be better in some areas and we’ll continue working on it

“I’m starting to feel more comfortable with the puck and making some plays I’m capable of making,” he said. “It’s easy with those two guys, Clarkie and Patty. They’re smart players. They get open. They take pucks to the net. You see Clarkie score – he takes the puck and he makes that play.”

“Travis is really finding his game,” DeBoer said. “The last couple of weeks, he has been really big for us.”

Brodeur earned career win No. 666 against the Panthers and said he is rounding into game shape after missing a month with back problem and pinched nerve in his neck.

“I’m getting there. I feel good,” he said. “It’s just little things like playing the puck. I made a big mistake there and it cost a goal for our team (against Florida). It could have been a costly for the game, but I’m lucky enough it didn’t really matter for the outcome of the game. But a couple little things like that the more I play, the more I’ll make better decisions.”


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