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Sensibly, no video tribute was flashed on the big screens Tuesday night for Ilya Kovalchuk, who demonstrated he’s still got some touch.
The ex-Atlanta Thrashers sniper drove the net and redirected Drew Doughty’s feed past Winnipeg goalie Connor Hellebuyck to give the Los Angeles Kings an early 1-0 lead on the Jets at Bell MTS Place.
It was the Russian-born forward’s first NHL goal since April 25, 2013, when he played for the New Jersey Devils. He entered the game with a pair of assists generated Sunday in L.A.’s 4-2 victory over the Detroit Red Wings.
But the goal, Kovalchuk admitted after, lost its lustre in a 2-1 defeat.
“I prefer to win than score goals. It wasn’t enough, so we will be better next game,” he said.
Kovalchuk, 35, is back in the league following a five-year absence after signing a three-year, US$18.75-million deal with the Kings in the summer. He scored 417 goals and amassed 816 points in 816 games with the Thrashers and New Jersey Devils before returning to Russia in 2013 to play for SKA St. Petersburg of the KHL.
Like it or not, Jets fans, Kovalchuk is still considered the Atlanta/Winnipeg franchise leader in goals (328) and points (615). Twice he ripped 52 goals (2005-06, ‘07-08) and hit the 40-goal mark three other times in seven-plus seasons with the Thrashers.
Those milestones won’t be eclipsed any time soon. Bryan Little, the only Jet who can call Kovalchuk an ex-teammate, is 128 goals behind (200), while Blake Wheeler is 117 points behind (498). Wheeler does hold the franchise assist lead (325), 38 more than Kovalchuk, who led Russia to Olympic gold in February in PyeongChang and was named the tournament’s most valuable player. Little is third with 275 helpers.
Nic Petan is back in town — but where he fits in the Jets’ plans remains to be seen.
The speedy, skilled forward left training camp on Sept. 18 following the sudden death of his father, Franc. Petan returned home to Vancouver to be with his mother and brother on an indefinite leave of absence granted by the Jets.
“Nic is currently in Winnipeg and skating on his own. My belief is he will be joining the team very soon, but I am not sure yet what that will look like for him in the short-term or the long-term,” his agent, Joe Oliver, told the Free Press on Tuesday.
Petan has been deemed a non-rostered player whose salary is currently counting towards the cap. Once he’s eligible to play, a decision will have to be made as the Jets would then exceed the 23-player maximum.
Petan would have to clear waivers in order to be sent to the Manitoba Moose, unless it was for the purpose of a short-term conditioning assignment, which might be allowed given the circumstances. Forward Marko Dano, who has been a healthy scratch through the first three games, also requires waivers to go down. Brendan Lemieux, who has also sat for the first three games, does not.
A quick look around the NHL scoreboard these days might have some observers doing a bit of a double-take.
7-6? 8-5? 8-2? 7-6 again?
Some of the results resemble low-scoring football games, rather than traditional hockey contests.
“I think early in the year, everybody comes in with a tremendous amount of optimism. Especially if they had some offence going last year. There’s not a lot of people telling their fans ‘We are such a great defensive team. Come out and watch us defend.’ And then we get into these big number games and coaches are going ‘Fellas, we are not winning 7-6 every night, that’s an aberration, we’ve got to be better defensively.’ So some of that takes over,” Jets head coach Paul Maurice said Tuesday of the high-scoring affairs.
“Other than that, what’s changed? The goalies’ gear’s changed. We don’t know the effect on that. I think we have four No. 1’s down now, I don’t know if that’s an effect. But you watch the number of No. 1 goalies out of the lineup. But I think a lot of it is let’s see how many goals we can score, let’s make some plays,” said Maurice.
“So when you’re making some of those higher-risk offensive plays because you’re feeling it and this is the year you’re going to score 50 even though you’d have five, the cost to that play not developing is something’s going the other way. So when you watch, you see the puck go back and forth a lot more. It’s exciting as hell if you’re watching on TV.”
Although it’s probably not a lot of fun for coaches, offensive-minded players likely enjoy the wide-open style.
“Obviously, there’s a lot of young, skilled players but we’re three, four games in for each team,” said Jets centre Mark Scheifele.
“It’s too early to tell. Obviously, it’s good to see a lot of goals but it’s too early in the season to talk about that.”
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.
Assistant sports editor
Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).