Ilya Kovalchuk started the month of February hot and ended it cold. After smashing Buffalo with a hat trick, it would be nine games before he lit the lamp. Sure, he contributed with assists and he still fired away, but the pucks just weren't going in. Fortunately for Kovalchuk and the New Jersey Devils, the streak was snapped with a score against Our Hated Rivals within the first week of March. Kovalchuk would go on to score eight more goals in March, including another hat trick, and then finish off the 2011-12 regular season with three more goals. Kovalchuk ended his season with the team lead in goals with 37, which was good enough to tie him with three other players for sixth most in the NHL.
To put that total in further perspective, the five players who had more in descending order scored 60 (Stamkos), 50 (Malkin), 41 (Gaborik), 40 (Neal), and 38 (Ovechkin). All but Gaborik put up 300 or more shots on net, and Gaborik was no slouch with 278. Generally, the player needs to fire the puck a lot to score goals. More importantly, he needs to be rather consistent. A couple of slumps is usually going to be enough to limit how many you get, and a player can't necessarily control that. It speaks to Kovalchuk's quality and his puck luck peaking after goalless streaks that he got as many as he did. That's what happened with these last twelve goals he scored in the regular season. After an extensive goalless streak, he came back with production despite his game never really changing. So let's take a look at those goals and see what he did on each one prior to the red light going off.
About the Review
As explained in the first and second 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 and most importantly, I have included a link to the NHL.com video for each goal. These are the videos I used to review each goal; I did not and will not look for any other video of the goal for the purposes of this review. Let's look at those last twelve goals Kovalchuk scored in the 2011-12 regular season.
Goals #26 - 37 Scored by Ilya Kovalchuk in 2011-12 - A Chart
|Date||GF||Link||Shot Type||Goal Type||Situation||SC?||GF Description||Fluke?|
|3/6/12||26||Link||Forehand||Shot||5-on-5||Yes||Neutral zone pressure leads to Parise springing Kovalchuk into the zone between the D. He takes it in and scores.||No|
|3/8/12||27||Link||One-touch||Rebound||5-on-5||Yes||Tic-tac-toe to Kovalchuk at the left post and he misses. Kovalchuk puts back his own rebound off the boards.||No|
|3/8/12||28||Link||Slap Shot||One-timer||5-on-4||Yes||Zidlicky gets it in the high slot, feeds Kovalchuk at the left dot, and he one-times it inside the near post||No|
|3/8/12||29||Link||Slap Shot||One-timer||5-on-5||No||Devils win puck down low, Parise gets at sideboards and sees Kovalchuk above high-slot. Pass, slap shot, goal.||No|
|3/11/12||30||Link||Forehand||Shot||5-on-5||Yes||Henrique keeps it after being denied on rush, gets it to Zidlicky who passes it to Kovalchuk. Kovalchuk goes to the slot and rifles one over the goalie||No|
|3/20/12||31||Link||Slap Shot||One-timer||5-on-4||No||Zidlicky collects rebound on a shot at the right point. He slides it over to Kovalchuk, who bombs it in from the left point.||No|
|3/25/12||32||Link||One-touch||One-timer||5-on-5||Yes||Zajac gets puck next to slot and fires a pass to Kovalchuk at the crease. One-touch and it's in.||No|
|3/29/12||33||Link||One-touch||Rebound||5-on-5||Yes||3-on-2 leads to a Parise shot that's stopped. Someone (Henrique?) chips out rebound and Kovalchuk fires it in||No|
|3/31/12||34||Link||Slap Shot||One-timer||5-on-5||No||As power play ends, Sykora passes it to Kovalchuk from the corner to the high slot. Kovalchuk winds up and fires it in low||No|
|4/3/12||35||Link||Forehand||Empty Net||5-on-6||No||Parise knocks puck away in the neutral zone, Kovalchuk takes it, goes to the right dot, and slides it in for the ENG.||No|
|4/7/12||36||Link||Forehand||Shot||5-on-4||Yes||Elias played it across for Kovalchuk heading towards right dot. Kovalchuk collects and fires a wrister past the goalie||No|
|4/7/12||37||Link||Forehand||Empty Net||5-on-6||No||Senators can't keep it in, puck flies out for Kovalchuk to get it in the neutral zone. He gets into the zone and fires from distance into the empty net.||No|
It's a good argument as to which one of these twelve goals was the most impressive. It very well could be the first one. GF #26 was one heck of a way to break a goalless streak. Zach Parise sprung Kovalchuk into the zone and in between the defense, as one Ranger fell down, Kovalchuk got it in under Henrik Lundqvist as sent the Rock into a state of euphoria. It was a great finish to a great heads-up play by his linemates. I'd choose that one among the bunch. I will say that his wrist shot that led to GF #30 was sublime. I will also say similarly for his slap shots on GFs #29, 31 and 34; they were all fantastically powerful and yet got in with great precision.
In the second post of this review, I noted how Kovalchuk racked up more goals off scoring chances and wondered whether that would continue. It almost did as Kovalchuk scored five goals from shots outside of that scoring chance zone. Those five were either empty net goals (GFs #35, 37) and slap shot one-timers from distance (GFs #29, 31, and 34). You could argue that he was just outside on GF #28, but I thought he was in given where he was in the circle. So this third set has as many non-scoring chance goals as the second set, and only one fewer than the first set. In the regular season alone, it's fair to say that Kovalchuk can and has scored from long shots. Still, a majority of his goals will come from more dangerous locations. 21 out of 37, to be precise.
Speaking of long shots, this set showed that Kovalchuk still packs a strong slapshot. After only scoring on one slap shot in the last set reviewed, Kovalchuk lit the lamp with four of them. Making it more impressive was that all of them were also one-timers. They're not easy shots to control. Just remember Brian Rolston and his dazzling array of high and wide shots. As great as they were, I see them as an example of how much better luck he had in March as opposed to the second half of February. He only had three goals from slap shots prior to this March-April regular season set. Kovalchuk definitely has a strong slap shot, but I don't think he suddenly got better with it in a six-week span to the end of the season.
Kovalchuk got two rebound goals in this set, though both are not what you think. GF #33 may not be a traditional rebound goal as the puck was chipped out to Kovalchuk after it was stopped. I think Henrique did it, but I don't know if it was intentional. All the same, Kovalchuk slammed it back into the net. GF #27 was the first and I nearly credited this one as a fluke goal. Kovalchuk was set up for a one-timer on the goalie's flank and he missed. The puck bounced hard and at just the right angle for Kovalchuk to collect it and lift it over the goalie. I called it a rebound goal on the technicality that the puck came off the boards and he put it back in. The fluky part was how it got back to Kovalchuk, In this case, I didn't do so because the goal itself wasn't a fluke. I'm willing to reconsider it, if there's enough argument otherwise.
Still, Kovalchuk finished the season strong in terms of production. He picked up a hat trick against the Islanders on March 8 (GFs #27 - 29), he got a brace in the last game of the season, and he put up several goals in between. We all want to see him score plenty of goals and he did just that. With a little more good luck, it could have been much more. It also could have been much more in the postseason with better health, but we can delve into that into the fourth part of this review.
Until then, let me know what you think of these twelve goals Kovalchuk scored to close out the 2011-12 regular season. Which goal impressed you the most? Were you surprised to learn that the slap shot one-timer was more successful compared to earlier in the season? How about the fact that most of the goals Kovalchuk scored in this set (and this season) were in the scoring chance zone? Or that all but one of his regular season goals came on his forehand? Please leave your answers and other thoughts on this set of goals scored by Ilya Kovalchuk in the comments. Thank you for reading.