Sunday, February 6, 2011

Kovy leads the way in another Devils win at Montreal

After stubbing their toe on Friday, the Devils made sure they didn't fall into a pothole this afternoon, coming out with a purpose early against the Habs and hanging on late despite the fact that Martin Brodeur left the game due to injury (tweaked knee, supposedly day-to-day but with this medical staff you have to remain skeptical). New Jersey's 4-1 win - our sixth in a row at the Bell Centre - was especially satisfying for Ilya Kovalchuk, who for reasons known only to them was booed mercilessly by Hab fans every time he touched the puck. Kovy responded the best way possible with two goals, for the second time in three games dominating in front of a hostile crowd. Despite his uneven play Friday night, that's encouraging in itself.

Granted, I get why Kovy gets booed in Atlanta and LA (contract issues) and at the Garden because of his rivalry with 'favorite son' Avery. Heck, I'm not even surprised at the boos in Toronto because of the nonsense this offseason with Brian Burke getting involved in the Kovalchuk contract hearing. Today's booing seemed pretty random though...if they're gonna boo the best player than boo Brodeur - who's a thorn in the side of their team, of course they won't do that for obvious reasons.

With Brodeur in net, that figured to give the Devils an edge in a matchup of two of the league's hottest teams given the hometown kid's career record in Montreal, which includes a .945 save percentage and five shutouts. However, the first period was about Devil domination more than anything else as the team came out with a purpose after blowing Friday's game with Danius Zubrus scoring after just seventy-two seconds, pouncing on a turnover behind the net and beating Carey Price with some quick stickwork in front for his tenth goal of the season. At 4:04 Kovy scored his first of the game and 16th of the year with a sick deflection of a Colin White point shot, and celebrated emphatically in front of the booing fans.

Although Brodeur made eleven saves, one of them proved costly when he tweaked his knee and didn't return for the second period. Despite being out for the rest of the game, Brodeur would add to his record wins total thanks to some good, controlled play by Johan Hedberg and an insurance goal by Travis Zajac just 3:16 into the second. Hedberg only allowed one goal, a shot by P.K. Subban that deflected off a defenseman and past him to pull the Habs back to 3-1, and there the game remained until Kovy scored an empty-net 'goal'. Actually Kovy missed the empty net but was previously hooked on a clear breakaway so it counted as an automatic goal at 18:39, accounting for the final score in a 4-1 win that pulled New Jersey back to within sixteen points of the final playoff spot.

Yeah okay I admit it, I have started to think in terms of 'well, a win Tuesday at least can get us back to 14 and makes it somewhat interesting' since we're playing the eighth-seed Hurricanes in a critical matchup. Not only are the two home games against Carolina this month a must-win, they're pretty much a must-win in regulation if we have any shot of accomplishing the miracle of miracle comebacks. Despite his good play today, I'm not anxious to see Hedberg in net Tuesday. Not if he's going to try too hard and put himself wildly out of position the way he did Friday. From what I saw of the second and third periods at my friend's house for a Super Bowl party, Hedberg looked much more controlled this afternoon. Zajac also had an excellent game with two assists to go along with his goal, but it was Kovy who stole the show playing over twenty-five minutes with two goals and a +2 in what was (imo) his best game as a Devil to date.

For the Devils to keep up their run to .500 or better, Kovy's going to have to be a dominant player again and it looks like he's getting more and more comfortable both offensively and defensively since the return of Jacques Lemaire. Maybe the team's success has finally gotten Lemaire thinking of a possible return, since just two weeks after he flatly denied he'd come back he didn't rule it out entirely talking to one of the local reporters today. For whatever issues I have with Lemaire (the power play being one, his treatment of Matthais Tedenby being another), he has at least curtailed the mad line juggling that drove me up a wall last year and that's been a change for the better. If he can unlock the key to assimilating Kovy to the Devils, it'd certainly be worth having him around next year to finish the job.

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