In my first fan post I asked the question Who should center Parise? I made a somewhat weak argument based on 4 on 4 play and power play that Elias should be Parise's center. It was difficult to prove chemistry any other way due to the fact that Elias and Parise so rarely play together at evens. Well, the voting was close: 42% Elias and 57% Zajac. I felt pretty good about that, I think I persuaded a few. But one point that I didn't make (if Zajac were to center Parise) was how that would effect Kovalchuk. Most people believe that Elias should center Kovalchuk, but is this really that good? I decided to find out and what I found surprised me.
Since Ilya Kovalchuck was traded to the Devils, he has scored 28 even strength non-empty net goals in 108 games played. Eight were scored in his first season (27 games) and 20 in his second (81 games). Now the question I've been wondering is -- who is setting up all of these Kovalchuk goals and who is on his line? I've gone through every goal scored by Kovy to find out. Of the 28 goals, 26 had primary assists, and 7 of those were from defensemen. So in total, only 19 times in 108 games has a forward had the primary assist on an even strength Kovalchuk goal: Zajac (6), Elias (4), Zubrus (3), Rolston (2), Palmieri (2), McAmmond, and Josefson. Defense: Greene (3), Taormina (2), Salmela, White.
Now, who are his linemates when he scores (not including OT)? I've included total goals per line.
Kovalchuck – Elias – Langenbrunner
Kovalchuck – Elias – Zubrus (3)
Kovalchuck – Zajac – Rolston
Kovalchuck – McAmmond – Pelley
Kovalchuck – Elias – Zharkov
Kovalchuck – Zajac – Langenbrunner
End of first season, no even strength non-EN goals in playoffs
Kovalchuck – Zajac – Parise
Kovalchuck – Zajac – Zubrus
Kovalchuck – Arnott – Zubrus
Kovalchuck – Zubrus – Zharkov
Kovalchuck – Zajac – Palmieri (10)
Kovalchuck – Zajac – Tedenby
Kovalchuck – Josefson – Tedenby
So, as we can see, while Zajac centered Kovalchuk, he was able to score 15 goals (out of 26 regulation even strength goals). Elias was able to get five out of him. So 58% came from Zajac and 19% from Elias. Now, the question is, how many minutes did he play with each? Well, I don't have a precise answer for that. However, these lines are in chronological order. It seems like the Kovalchuck – Zajac – Palmieri line was created on January 4th with 44 games remaining in the season. Let's break down the Devils record with Kovalchuk before and after this event occurred.
After acquiring Kovalchuk on February 4th the Devils finished the season 13-14 (counting OT and SO losses as losses). Then next season, in the first 38 games they went 11-27. Finally, they put together Kovalchuck – Zajac – Palmieri, in that span, the Devils went 28-16. Obviously there are a lot of other factors at play here, but I think we should take a step back and look at the Devil's record between these two events. The Devils went 24-41 in Kovalchuk's first 65 games as a Devil (33 under MacLean). The Devils had Parise for the majority of those games. But, after “the line” was created, even without Parise the Devils were able to have a 28-16 record. Those are pretty staggering numbers. It actually scares me to put Kovalchuck with anyone but Zajac and Palmieri. There has only been one other line combination that has produced more than one goal and of those three; two were scored in the 2009-2010 season, the other was very late in the 2010-2011 season.
What do you think?