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Analysis: Kovalchuk doesn't make N.J. Atlantic favorites

| Friday, Feb. 5, 2010

Goal-scoring star winger Ilya Kovalchuk is headed to New Jersey, where Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello has upgraded a club that has struggled to score in recent weeks.

Kovalchuk, with 31 goals on the season, should boost an offense that has sagged with two or fewer goals in 10 of 14 games; and soon-to-return winger Patrik Elias (concussion) should provide an added spark.

Still, given what the Devils surrendered — defenseman John Oduya, forwards Niclas Bergfors and Patrice Cormier and a first-round pick — can the addition of Kovalchuk, likely to test free agency on July 1, really be considered a monumental move in the Eastern Conference?

Perhaps, but all bets are off given two factors: Kovalchuk's lack of playoff experience (four games in 2007), and the wild card that is his style meshing with Devils coach Jacques Lemaire's preferred neutral-zone trap system.

New Jersey is in a dogfight with the Penguins, who never entered the Kovalchuk hunt, for the Atlantic Division title, and Buffalo for a No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Perhaps Kovalchuk is the difference-maker in those races; but the success of this deal will be determined by how far the Devils advance in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

That will again depend on all-everything goalie Martin Brodeur — not Kovalchuk, who has never experienced the heat of a competitive playoff series. His Thrashers were bounced in four games by the Rangers three years ago.

The Penguins are two years removed from reaching the Cup Final after the acquisition of winger Marian Hossa (who in 2008, like Kovalchuk this season, had forced a move from Atlanta by rejecting several contract extension offers).

However, those Penguins added Hossa to a roster that included star centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Also, they upgraded their team defense with defenseman Hal Gill and penalty-killing forward Pascal Dupuis.

The Devils are weaker defensively with the Kovalchuk move, and they lack a center to rival Penguins center Jordan Staal, nevermind Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin.

Don't fall into the trap of believing the new-look Devils are better off for a seven-game showdown with the champs. They're not.


3 — Members of the 2008 Stanley Cup Final Penguins on the Team USA men's hockey roster for the Vancouver Games (Brooks Orpik, Ryan Malone and injury-replacement Ryan Whitney)

26 — Percentage of his 199 NHL goals defenseman Sergei Gonchar has scored with the Penguins.


"No, I don't think anybody is saving themselves. It's just a long season, and with the (compressed) schedule and all the games and traveling... I don't think guys are sitting around and waiting for the right moment." — Penguins defenseman Sergei Gonchar, on a popular notion that the playoff-tested Penguins have paced themselves to this point in the season.

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