On Saturday night, Ilya Kovalchuk attempted a shot while skating forward, lost his edge, and slid hard into the end boards. Play was stopped as he was down, he got up shortly after the whistle, and skated to the bench on his own with no pressure on his right arm. He did not return to the game and was thought to be injured. Today, Lou Lamoriello provided the bad news, as reported in this post by Tom Gulitti at Fire & Ice: Kovalchuk is out for two-to-four weeks with a right shoulder injury.
The good news is that Lou stated that Kovalchuk's injury does not require surgery and the X-rays taken were negative. He will return at some point this season. The bad news is the obvious: Kovalchuk is out for a significant length of time. In the best case scenario of two weeks, he would return in the middle of April and just in time for the team's stretch run. In the worst case scenario of four weeks, he could return for final week of the season. Anything longer than that and his season would be just about done unless the Devils make the playoffs. In terms of personnel, Harri Pesonen was called up from Albany to replace the additional roster spot in the lineup.
Of course, Kovalchuk's actual role on the team will not be replaced by Pesonen or by any one single Devil. Kovalchuk may only have ten goals, but he's second on the team with 113 shots on net, he's second in points with 27, and he leads the team with an average of 25:13 per game in playing in all situations. That's not a replaceable guy. The Devils' PK may find success but without Kovalchuk, they're not likely to generate as many goals. The five minute power play that frustrated fans all around the world in the Florida game was a glimpse into a Kovalchuk-less power play. In the run of play, Kovalchuk could be counted on to carry pucks into the zone, make killer passes when available, and just take a lot of shooting attempts, which has led to shots. If he was shooting better than 8.8%, then it would be more obvious how much he means to the team. He will be dearly missed for two to four weeks.
The harsh reality is that he would be dearly missed even if the Devils got a "replacement" for Zach Parise back in the summer or a unicorn deal was made to bring in a top-six winger. Losing Kovalchuk hurts all the same. But life goes on. There are games to be played. It's up to the other forwards to step up their attack. This means David Clarkson needs to keep shooting as he has been. This means more will be asked of Patrik Elias, Adam Henrique, and Travis Zajac to shoot and produce. There will be more pressure on the other guys to chip in such as top-six fill-in Andrei Loktionov and the third/fourth liners like Ryan Carter and Steve Bernier. Having Alexei Ponikarovsky and Dainius Zubrus return in the near future will help; but it's going to take a team effort for an already unlucky-shooting team (again, 5-on-5 shooting percentage is still at a low 7.3%) to make up what Kovalchuk has brought to the table. They won't do it completely but they need to get enough offense to get wins.
And they need those wins. They're on the right side of the playoff bubble but that can change quickly given how close everyone is in the standings. Let me be clear about this: The Devils should not and can not give up now on the second season because Kovalchuk is out; they need to keep getting results. Dumping a season for one guy being out is something that this organization does not do. For when Kovalchuk does come back - and it appears he will at some point in April - there needs to be something to play for. Therefore, the other skaters collectively need to be more effective on offense. They may not make up for Kovalchuk completely, but they must try.
What's your reaction to this news? How would you organize the team without Kovalchuk? What do you think will happen now? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about Kovalchuk's injury and how the Devils will manage in the comments.