Friday, December 2, 2011

Devils' roadtrip begins disasterously

If things looked bad after Saturday's loss to the Isles where star winger Ilya Kovalchuk got booed heavily in the third period after committing a critical turnover, they've gotten a hundred times worse after the last two games in Colorado and Minnesota. Their 6-1 beatdown Wednesday isn't even worth discussing, hell I didn't watch half of the game anyway. It was practically over when it started with the Devils down 3-0 after one and Martin Brodeur giving up six goals in a complete game for the first time in umpteen years. Kovy - though he scored the game's only goal - was also a -4 after being on for no fewer than five of the six goals against and in the penalty box for the other.

Even that game didn't annoy me as much as tonight's in Minnesota against the first place(?!) Wild. While I felt there wasn't much Marty could do about the goals on Wednesday, he looked like he was in full 'I'm too old for this ****' mode tonight, especially after Kovy (who else?) watched the puck hop over his stick and lead to a breakaway goal by Dany Heatley - exactly twenty seconds after Zach Parise had opened the scoring by tipping home an Andy Greene shot at 2:54. Kovy was again involved in a negative way on the Wild's next goal, as he fell down leading to a Kyle Brodziak goal. At this point, Marty looked like he had it with everyone and everything and allowed a soft goal to Casey Wellman at 8:17, leading to a very rare mid-period hook after allowing three goals on four shots.

As has been the case so often this season (and I'm struggling to rationalize why), the team picked up its play 100% with Hedberg in net - with one exception - and amazingly Kovy made a positive contribution to the game at 13:59, when he beat Nicklas Backstrom with a wrister off an assist from Parise, to pull the Devils to within one. Perhaps the most critical thing that happened in this game was when Backstrom had to leave after the first period ostensibly due to injury, and Josh Harding replaced him. Harding was spectacular in the last two periods, foiling chance after chance as the Devils largely took play to the Wild, outshooting them 22-10.

Although the Devils didn't give up many chances in the final two periods, Kovy was again front and center on two of them...one being an errant pass that led to a breakaway allowed at the end of the second period where Moose made a terrific save on Brodziak. The second one, we wouldn't be as lucky on. With the team facing a four-on-four situation late, coach Pete DeBoer opted for three forwards and one defenseman, with Kovy playing the defenseman. You could smell the second-guessing all the way in Jersey and sure enough, Kovy tried to keep a puck in and missed, leading to another Brodziak breakaway and this time he would score, sealing the contest at 16:24 of the third.

While Kovy and Marty deserve most of the blame for what's happened the last few games, the coach needs to share in some of that too, both from his insistence at using Kovy on the point for the power play and at RW in five-on-five. True, Kovy and Zach finally looked like they showed some signs of chemistry tonight but clearly Kovy's still uncomfortable and admitted he was hoping the 'experimenting' would be done with after last season (referring to then-coach John MacLean putting him at RW). There's no good reason to me that you need to have Parise and Kovy on the same line. If DeBoer was the first coach to try putting a square peg into a round hole, that would be bad enough but being the second one to do it just makes it even more insane. Clearly the switch is getting in Kovy's head and he's making even more high-risk no-reward choices on the ice.

At some point the player needs to be held accountable, but the coach also needs to recognize what he has in the player both talentwise and mentally. And right now, Kovy's a mental midget that's dragging this team into the abyss much like his detractors predicted.

1 comment:

Derek Felix said...

Watching Kovalchuk not even try defensively is sad. He's just not the right fit. Honestly, Henrique's been your best player all year. He's a legit kid who has a shot at the Calder. Great speed, hands, dangerous shorthanded. Very skilled. Looks like a 65-70 Pt guy who won't disappear like Zajac. And yeah. The Devs miss him. Elias and Henrique have been money for you along with Clarkson and of course Hedberg. That's it.

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