Last night, Ilya Kovalchuk scored his second short handed goal of the season in the Devils 2-1 victory over the Edmonton Oilers. Kovalchuk, not the person you would normally think about as a 'penalty-killer' has been in the Devils rotation of forwards used on their league best penalty kill. After forward pairs Adam Henrique/Zach Parise and Patrik Elias/Danius Zubrus, Kovalchuk is typically he in the third forward pairing on the ice, usually with Ryan Carter.
Kovalchuk's contribution on the penalty kill is something that simply hasn't been a constant in his career. Let's look at his short-handed ice-time (SHTOI), short-handed goals/points (SHG/SHP) and the percentrage of his total ice-time (TTOI) that he spends on the penalty kill (SHTOI%).
As you can see, before this year he only had one season ( 2003-04) where he came close to averaging the SHTOI he is now. This year, Kovalchuk is spending nearly 5% of his ice-time killing penalties. That sure doesn't fit the Kovalchuk 'terrible defense' narrative, now does it?
With his increased ice-time he has also been able to augment his scoring. With three short-handed points this year Kovalchuk is already half-way towards his previous total career number of six. And while he is not the most instinctive defender, he is good positionally, has an active stick and like all good goal scorers can, he can sniff out scoring opportunities for himself.
Speaking of scoring, let's look at Kovalchuk's contributions another way. Right now Kovalchuk has 38 points and is 24th in the NHL in scoring (despite missing 5 games). There are a select group of players who have more points than Kovalchuk AND have contributed more time on the penalty kill.
And yes, before you ask...Kovalchuk is averaging more SHTOI than Pavel Datsyuk.
If you were to look at players who average more points per game AND more SHTOI than Kovalchuk that list becomes much smaller. Only Claude Giroux, Marian Hossa and Jason Pominville meet that criteria.
Of course as I write this Kovalchuk was just snubbed for inclusion into the All Star Game. Considering his offensive contributions, new-found defensive contributions and being the league's best shootout participant (hey I know it is a gimmick but it still generates points in the standings) he should have been included. But that's a debate for another day.