NEWARK, N.J. – Ilya Kovalchuk will not play for the reeling New Jersey Devils until his injured right shoulder feels comfortable.
After skating with nine other players on Thursday, Kovalchuk was uncertain whether he would be able to play for the defending Eastern Conference champions on Friday against the Ottawa Senators.
The Devils have dropped eight consecutive games (0-4-4) and their chances of making the playoffs are dwindling with eight games remaining in the 48-game, lockout-shortened season. They are four points out of a post-season spot and their situation is even more tenuous because they have won only 15 games this season, posting 10 points from overtime losses and shootouts.
“I just want to feel comfortable out there and do whatever I do best,” Kovalchuk said. “I just don’t want to go in the lineup and take somebody’s place and just be out there because I want to be there. I’m not that kind of guy. If I’ll come back, I’ll play my 100 per cent and try my best. I just don’t want to be a passenger to sit on the bench and get the best seat in the house.”
Kovalchuk knows how much his team misses him. The slide is the longest for New Jersey since 1985-86, and it coincides with Kovalchuk’s injury against Florida March 23.
“Eight games left and we’re four points behind, so it’s not a situation where we want to be, but, like I said, I don’t want to go out there just because of that,” he said. “I want to go out there to help the team and if you’re going to take somebody’s spot who is 100 per cent healthy and motivated, to me, it doesn’t make any sense.”
Kovalchuk skated at practice with teammates on Tuesday for the first time since the injury. He shot a couple of one-timers for the first time Thursday. While calling the shots a positive step, he indicated he wasn’t satisfied.
The Russian, who has 10 goals and 27 points in 32 games, said that being comfortable and 100 per cent are the same thing.
“That’s the most important thing,” he said. “You can have a little pain or a little discomfort. It doesn’t matter. You just have to go out there with the mindset you can do whatever you do best, not just to go out there to be the guy who’s screaming and yelling. ‘Come on! Let’s go guys!’ That’s not going to work.”
If he does play, Kovalchuk expects to be targeted by opponents. That’s the way things work in the NHL.
“I always play in those kinds of situations,” Kovalchuk said. “Anybody can get injured if he’s 200 per cent healthy. It’s when you feel you can do your best, that’s when you go.”
Kovalchuk plays on the Devils’ top line, kills off penalties and plays the point on the power play, which gave up two short-handed goals and failed to score in eight extra-man chances against Boston Wednesday night.
“Kovy is a scoring threat, so he is a big guy for our team.” forward Alexei Ponikarovsky said. “He is a great leader and a great goal scorer. He makes plays and whatever it takes. I don’t know the update but it will be nice to get him back.”
The Devils will be without defenceman Anton Volchenkov for the next four games following a suspension for elbowing Brad Marchand in that 5-4 loss to the Bruins. Fellow defenceman Bryce Salvador, New Jersey’s captain, is day to day with a wrist injury sustained when a shot off the stick of Boston’s Zdeno Chara hit him.
X-rays of the wrist were negative, New Jersey coach Peter DeBoer said.