Ilya Kovalchuk led the New Jersey Devils in scoring in 2011-12 both in the regular season and in the playoffs. He has carried the pedigree of being a big scorer throughout his career and he did just that in this past season. Kovalchuk lit the lamp 37 times in the regular season and eight more times in the postseason. While his performance varied between both times since he was clearly playing hurt in the playoffs, he definitely produced. It's this kind of production that Devils fans not only appreciated, but also expected from a player of his caliber.
Over the past few weeks, I reviewed each and every one of Kovalchuk's goals from this past season and playoffs. I wanted to see if there were any similarities to the way he was scoring these goals. I broke up the review across four different posts in chronological order of when Kovalchuk scored in 2011-12. Here are the links to those posts, which also contain what I was looking for in each goal:
In summing up my findings from all four parts, I discovered quite a bit about how Kovalchuk scored this year. Some of them should modify our expectations for future seasons. Others, I think, are just good bits of information.
First and foremost, we should want Kovalchuk to shoot with his forehand, be it with a wrister, a slapshot, or if he's just getting a touch on it. Based on my count of the type of shot he took, none of his goals came his backhand or from a snap shot.
This isn't to say that Kovalchuk will never score with those types of shots. But he's going to do a lot more damage if his stick blade is facing the goal. Kovalchuk has a fantastic shot and keeping it on his forehand allows him to get as much power as he wishes on a shot. This makes sense for all players, but for Kovalchuk, it's especially desirable given how much force he can place on a puck.
Incidentally, the counting of all of these shots makes me wonder about slapshots. We know Kovalchuk was used primarily on the point on power plays and he definitely demonstrated he can bomb a shot in from distance. However, he wasn't so successful with them as he was coming closer and just firing a quick, hard wrister. All the same, we want Kovalchuk to get looks on his forehand.
What about those one-touch goals? Well, that's a little more interesting than it may look. Kovalchuk was set up for quite a few one-timers where all he had to do was get a piece of the puck last season. However, that only explains a little less than half of those fifteen scores.
Yes, Kovalchuk actually scored nearly as many times off rebounds as he did with one-touch, one-timers. HThis leads me to my second main conclusion: We should want Kovalchuk to roam on offense. What stuck out to me among the 37 regular season goals was that many of them featured Kovalchuk moving into favorable locations off the puck. It speaks to his awareness and his chemistry with his teammates that he was able to get into those spots and turn them into successful plays, be it a quick one-timer at the crease or swooping in to slam in a loose rebound. It also explains why so many of us were frustrated with him in the playoffs at one point or another. While he was tied for the league lead in goals, Kovalchuk's injury prevented him from getting into those same spots as the play would develop. He did his damage on the power play, where he wouldn't have to do that given his spot on the unit. But it made him less threatening at evens, which is the most common situation in games. As great as his shot is, he's far more effective in motion in the hopes of getting a shot than in a set spot waiting for a shot.
The fact he only got two deflection goals (three, if you include that fluke goal GF #6) leads me to a third main conclusion: Kovalchuk shouldn't be trying to deflect pucks in. If he's in the area, great; but he really should be the one firing the shot that gets tipped in, not the other way around. Besides, deflections are low percentage plays in my mind. Even if you get a piece of it, who knows whether it beats the goalie or sends the shot astray.
As far as the types of goals scored go, Kovalchuk mostly scored with just shots and one-timers. He had those six rebound goals, five empty netters, and three off deflections (two by him, one by an opposing defender). Interestingly, he didn't have many breakaways. He's finished two-on-ones. He's gotten ahead of a defender but was pestered from behind so he didn't truly break away. Kovalchuk did have that one penalty shot, but that's a specialized situation - not really a breakaway. Perhaps I was mistaken but even if he had one or two, that wouldn't change the fact that Kovalchuk scored most of his goals with shots and one-timers. That would be more true if I didn't count empty net goals separately.
In terms what the play looked like on the ice, Kovalchuk scored most of his goals at 5-on-5 and 5-on-4 situations. It's what one would expect, since the former is the most common situation and he's a featured part of the Devils' power play unit on the latter. Interestingly, he only scored on one two-man advantage situation all season. I was a bit surprised at that. One would think that he should would have obtained more given that he's in a similar spot, except closer, in 5-on-3s. Then again, they're not common situations, so perhaps it's not worth reading into that. As far as the Kovalchuk-on-the-PK attempts go, he scored two shorthanded goals and one empty netter. It is what it is.
Getting back to main conclusions, here's a fourth: it's more likely that Kovalchuk will score in close range, but not always. Throughout this review, I've noted whether the original shot would count as a scoring chance or not based on the definition Jonathan Willis provided in this Edmonton Journal article. After going through all 45 goals, Kovalchuk scored 26 of them in that area. That's approximately 58% and that percentage increases to 66% (two-thirds) if we take out the penalty shot and the empty net goals. In a way, this shouldn't be news. After all, it's called a scoring chance for a reason; shots from the high slot down to the crease are more likely to go in than shots from the point or the sideboards. On the other hand, it is news in that it means Kovalchuk can strike wherever he can. Yes, the majority of his goals came in that scoring chance area, but it's not a dominant majority and several of those goals I counted as chances were at the dots. I don't know how he compares with other forwards in that regard, but it's worth pointing out.
Fifth and finally, Kovalchuk did not score many fluke goals and so we can expect him to keep scoring. I counted one, GF #6, where the defender re-directed a shot past his own goalie by accident. That's it. I initially had GF #10 as another one, but upon further review I went against it. One could argue GF #27 would count as it was weird that a missed one-timer would bounce off the boards and right back to Kovalchuk, but I relented in that the shot itself wasn't a fluke. Even if you do count that one, the vast majority of his goals still didn't come off weird bounces or incredibly lucky circumstances. That is important to note. This isn't to say Kovalchuk had no puck luck; after all, streaks happen whether we want them or not. However, he's not like David Clarkson, where a big chunk of his goals came off plays that aren't likely to happen again. We know from his history as a player that it's likely he'll keep scoring. How he scored 45 across the regular season and the playoffs should be further reason that we can expect Kovalchuk's production to be sustainable.
Those were my main takeaways and summaries from reviewing all 45 of Kovalchuk's goals from this past season. Maybe you already knew some of them, but having evidence to support them makes it worth noting in my view. I'm thinking about doing his 57 assists (46 in the regular season, 11 in the playoffs) next to confirm something I've been wondering recently, so this may not be the last Kovalchuk-centric post for some time. Anyway, I want to know your thoughts on Kovalchuk's goals in 2011-12. Do you agree with my conclusions? Did I miss anything that you found out from this review? Were you satisfied with how he scored those 45? Do you think he'll match or improve that total in the next 82-game season? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about Kovalchuk's goal scoring from this past season in the comments. Thank you for reading.