Ilya Kovalchuk was lethal on the flank, as the Rangers found out in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals - Bruce Bennett
Ilya Kovalchuk scored 37 goals for the New Jersey Devils in the 2011-12 regular season and eight more in the 2012 playoffs. This is the fourth and final part of a review of all of those goals featuring his eight playoff goals.
Ilya Kovalchuk led the New Jersey Devils in playoff scoring with 19 points. He finished just behind Dustin Brown and Anze Kopitar, who picked up three and one point to get to twenty in their Cup-clinching victory, for the league lead in playoff scoring. However, Kovalchuk only scored eight goals. At first glance, that doesn't seem like much. Eight goals in 23 games? From our sniper?
In order to be a scoring leader in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, you either need to be consistently scoring as your team goes deep, get hot in a short amount of time such that few other players can reach your totals, or hope the playoff scoring is spread out such that it doesn't take a large total to be a leader. No other skater scored more than eight goals in the entire 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Kovalchuk was tied with Brown, Kopitar, Zach Parise, Jeff Carter, Claude Giroux, and Danny Briere for first in the league in playoff goals. Clearly, the scoring really was spread out. In the case of Kovalchuk, it's not like he just had bad luck with the puck either. Kovalchuk shot at 11.4% in the postseason according to his NHL.com profile. In the regular season, his shooting percentage in all situations was 11.9%. A drop in .5% isn't much at all; it's not like he had an extended slump.
However, I don't think we can say he was all that consistent. In the regular season, he averaged a little over four shots per game. While he finished third in playoff shots with 70, Kovalchuk averaged a little over three shots per game. That drop in shooting rate is evidence of some drop. But more than that, the scoring from Kovalchuk came in spots. This is apparent when we take a closer look at the goals he did score in the playoffs. We shall do so in the fourth and final part of this review of all the goals Kovalchuk scored in the 2011-12 campaign.
About the Review
As explained in the first, second, and third part of this series, I will be documenting the game situation, the type of shot, and the type of goal for each one of Kovalchuk's scores. Each are self-explanatory. If not, I'd be more than happy to clarify either here or in the comments. I'm also noting whether the shot he took would count as a scoring chance. I'm using the definition of a scoring chance as defined by Jonathan Willis in this article for the Edmonton Journal. I am also judging whether or not the goal was scored on some kind of fluke play. This would account for events such as if a shot going off a defending player which re-directed the puck to beat the goalie, or if the goalie simply misplayed the shot. I'll go into those as appropriate in the commentary. Lastly, I have included a link to the NHL.com video for each goal with only one exception. These are the videos I used to review each goal in this review. The one exception comes in this post as the NHL.com video was cut off. I have replaced it with a video of the full play from DevilsHQ on YouTube. Either way, let's look at the eight goals Kovalchuk scored in the 2012 playoffs.
The Eight Goals Scored by Ilya Kovalchuk in the 2012 Playoffs - A Chart
|Date||GF||Link||Shot Type||Goal Type||Situation||SC?||GF Description||Fluke?|
|4/15/12||38||Link||One-touch||Deflection||5-on-5||No||Henrique gets the puck on the half-boards. He fires it to an open Kovalchuk in the slot, and he re-directs it in.||No|
|4/19/12||39||Link||Forehand||Shot||5-on-4||Yes||Harrold retrieves the puck and fires it laterally to Kovalchuk in the left circle. Kovalchuk tees it up and picks the top-right corner||No|
|4/24/12||40||Link||One-touch||One-timer||5-on-4||Yes||Sykora gets it to Zajac down low and Kovalchuk drives to the net on the left flank. Zajac feeds Kovalchuk for the one-timer goal.||No|
|5/3/12||41||Link||Forehand||Shot||5-on-5||Yes||On a 3-on-2, Ponikarovsky leaves it for Zajac, who then feeds an open Kovalchuk. Kovalchuk gets in the slot and beats the goalie clean||No|
|5/8/12||42||Link||Slap Shot||Shot||5-on-4||No||Henrique knocks it back to Kovalchuk at left point after faceoff. Kovalchuk winds up and picks the top left corner.||No|
|5/16/12||43||Link||Forehand||Shot||5-on-4||Yes||Zidlicky keeps puck in, moves it across to Kovalchuk, he moves past the left dot, and fires it inside the far post.||No|
|5/25/12||44||Link||One-touch||One-timer||5-on-4||Yes||Harrold to Henrique to Clarkson to Zubrus to Kovalchuk on the left flank to finish it.||No|
|6/6/12||45||Link||Forehand||Empty Net||5-on-6||No||Clearance blocked by Doughty, knocked away by Parise, Kovalchuk takes it and fires it into the empty net.||No|
It's remarkable that in Kovalchuk's eight playoff goals, he only scored two of them at even strength. The first one, GF #38, might even be described as a fluke as it was a deflection. Kovalchuk saw the puck incoming from Adam Henrique and he just got his stick on it. Given that he saw it, I decided against it being a fluke occurrence. Even so, it's a rare deflection goal from Kovalchuk in 2011-12. He's only had two other goals off deflections, and one of them was a deflection by an opposing player (GF #6). The second even strength goal he scored, GF #41, is more in line with the plenty he scored throughout the season. Off the rush, he gets into space, he takes it to a dangerous location, and he fires it in. It was a pretty goal. However, that would be it in terms of five-on-five scoring.
Kovalchuk made up for that with five power play goals. No one else in the 2012 postseason had five or more power play goals. More interesting than that is that only one of them came from a long shot. GF #42 was simply a powerful slap shot right after a faceoff that put the Devils up 3-1 in Game 5 against Philly and sent the message that this game would be over (and it was). The other four goals with the man advantage featured Kovalchuk finishing the play in a scoring chance location. GFs #40 and 44 were both one-timers on the goaltender's flank. GFs #39 and 43 were great wrist shots at angles inside the faceoff dot. GF #43 was particularly spectacular as Kovalchuk got around his initial defender to get to the spot for his score. They demonstrate his great shot and his ability to be open to finish those kinds of plays. At the same time, it's raises the question as to why Kovalchuk was more successful at scoring on the power play than at even strength in the playoffs.
The first thing that came to my mind would be the fact he wasn't 100% in the postseason. Thousands of comments, tens of conversations, and so, so many words were spent on Kovalchuk's injury and the effects of it. It became apparent to most in the Florida series, I didn't think it was that significant until Game 1 of the Philadelphia series, and it became an on-going point of discussion throughout the playoffs. He didn't move as swiftly as he could have and that may have led to the drop in shots per game. It was not that big of an issue on power plays when the Devils are set up. It was an issue to keep up all the time during the run of play at even strength. I also wonder whether that also led to the fact that he went from three goals in the Florida series to two in four games against Philly to two against the Rangers to a mere empty netter against Los Angeles. If you notice the dates, the goals occurred with games in between - enough so that he wasn't all that consistent in scoring goals. This isn't to say he should've sat more than just the one game He did contribute assists that led to goals, so he was productive. Moreover, a less-than-100% Kovalchuk was still a way better option than bringing up someone from Albany or the press box (e.g. Tim Sestito, as seen in Game 2 against Philadelphia). Still, I can't disagree with the idea that a fully healthy Kovalchuk could have led to possibly more shots and goals.
At the same time, I can't say he was useless. Again, eight goals was enough to lead all skaters in playoff goals - even if there were six other skaters who pulled it off. Again, Kovalchuk did most of his damage within the scoring chance zone with five goals from that area as opposed to three outside of it. Again, Kovalchuk scored all of them with his forehand, be it with a wrist shot, a one-timer, or a slap shot. Again, none of these were fluke goals, though one could make a case for GF #38. The only real oddity is that most of them were power play goals; situations where his struggles in motion were minimized. Was he successful? To a point, definitely. I just wonder whether he could have done more.
In any case, the eight goals got Kovalchuk up to 45 for the entire campaign. This post concludes the goal-by-goal review of what Kovalchuk did for the Devils over the last regular season and postseason. There will be a summary next week. In the meantime, please share your thoughts on Kovalchuk's goals in the playoffs. How much was his scoring affected by his injury? Were you surprised to learn he did most of his damage on power plays? Which one of these goals impressed you the most? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about Kovalchuk's playoff scoring in the comments. Thank you for reading.