Wednesday, February 4, 2009

A good season, but not Ilya good.

Bottom line: My mouth still hurts a bit from grinning all night after a 2-1 shootout victory over the New York Rangers. It's been over a year and a half since the Thrashers were swept out of the playoffs by the Blue Shirts and I, as a fan with a memory, relish every victory over NYR since that day... because they don't come often.

However, it could have been easier. It could have been nicer. In a season where the Thrashers' futility on the ice has been the most consistent aspect of the team, Thrasher fans, such as myself, could only expect the worse.

With about 30 seconds left in the game, leading by a score of 1-0, and New York's Henrik Lundqvist pulled from the net, John Anderson sent out his best faceoff man for a draw in his own zone. Rich Peverley, who played unspectacularly, but extremely dependable last night, did his job and possession went to the Thrashers.

Empty net. Puck possession. Blood in the water. Who best to sniff out the loose puck and go for the kill than Ilya Kovalchuk?

And so he did. And so I relaxed on the sofa at my fiancee's duplex apartment. I leaned back... at the ready to give a hearty clap and congratulatory, "Thatta boy, Ilya!" But this season is different for Kovalchuk... this season is off.

Down the right side boards, Kovalchuk took a wrister as he was gaining the zone; not in a non-chalant manner or in a victorious pull-up. Kovalchuk missed. Clank. Off the outside of the right post.

Off the outside of the right post? Off the out-SIDE OF THE RIGHT POST!!!!!! How un-Ilya! How very Thrashers.

This is where my point begins. I know that Atlanta went on to victory in the shootout with two sweet goals by Bryan Little and Slava Kozlov. I know that two points in the standings doesn't do much for the Thrashers other than hurt Atlanta's chances of gaining the #1 overall pick in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft.

But I also know that I have never seen Ilya Kovalchuk be off when the game was on the line... sometimes he rings the crossbar, other times he gets robbed by a fantastic save, but when the game is there for the taking... he takes it.

Looking at Ilya Kovalchuk's numbers alone will indicate that he is having an off season. 21 goals... nice. 29 assists... underrated passing forward. 50 points in 52 games... I like it. Solid year so far. But it's not Ilya good.

Ilya Kovalchuk's pace has been well-documented by the media. His current scoring output would net him 33 goals, the least since his rookie campaign in 2001-02. A pertinent question to ask here is: why is Ilya's goal scoring down? Is he taking less shots? Well, yes and no.

Kovalchuk is on pace for 270 shots, which would be the least since his sophomore NHL season in 2002-03. His shooting percentage, currently, is 12.3 percent. Seems bad, right? However, those 270 shots are ones that are hitting the net.

Last night, for example, on the powerplay, Kovalchuk was planted at the left point (so he could wind up that big right-handed slapper). Ilya fired puck after puck (at least five) from the point on nice feeds by the likes of Ron Hainsey, Slava Kozlov, and Todd White.

At the end of the night, the NHL stat line had this loneliest number in his shot column: 1. So why is Kovalchuk missing the net? Is it his mechanics? Is this why he's not scoring goals? Is this why he's frustrated?

Those are questions only Ilya can answer and after last night, I'm sure he's asking them to himself. These type of seasons happen... for unexplained reasons really. Sometimes, even for a whole year, the puck doesn't bounce your way. This is not an excuse for Ilya, but it just may not be his year.

Kovalchuk is still having a good-to-solid year. He will net 30-plus goals, be close to a point per game average, and still wreak havoc for many opposing defenses... but it won't be good enough, because the Thrashers as a team are not good enough.

For Atlanta to get back on the trail to success, Atlanta needs #17 to be Ilya good.


  1. Kovy is always going to put up numbers, he's just too good not to. The thing is, he doesn't have the complete game that a player like Ovechkin has to where he doesn't need playmakers around him.

    With Peverley and Little on the same line, it's a good start I think, but teams are going to continue to effectively doubleteam Ilya until Little and Peverley consistently start making them pay for doing it...

  2. "How un-Ilya! How very Thrashers." -- Nice line, man.

    How's signing day going for you?

  3. Re: Monty,

    Double-teaming in hockey doesn't really work. I've been following this season pretty closely (with the DVR!), surprise suprise, and Kovalchuk is just off.

    He's getting the looks and just not burying them. The empty net non-goal was an example of this.. It is true that Kovalchuk's best year came with Marc Savard as his center and Shawn McEachern as his RW. Savard is an upgrade over every center that has ever played with Kovy. McEachern was a decent RW in his own right; as good or better than Sim, Mellanby, or Colby Armstrong.

    As far as the comparison to Ovechkin, have you ever wondered why AO has the time and space that he does? How about the likes of Sergei Fedorov, Niklas Backstrom, Viktor Kozlov, and Alexander Semin plus the Capitals have a good looking crew of young forwards in the pipeline.

    Eric Fehr would be Ilya's starting RW... he plays third line minutes in Washington. Ovechkin may not need playmakers and good players around him, but he's got them.

    Teams are taking away Ilya's space and forcing him out of his game... but Kovalchuk is a special talent, when his game is on... this is the first year his game hasn't been on.

    Re: Josh,

    Thanks. I was thinking about doing an entry on signing day and how it is nearly just as lame at the D-I level as it is at D-II... except somebody has heard of a couple of the kids committing to D-I schools.

    Newberry will release a list later on and I've been following VSU's commits at but other than heights and weights there isn't much to get excited about.

    Sports fans in this country, especially at the NCAA level, get more riled up for potential than for the present.

  4. Good comment on potential. Isn't that what makes Spring so great for baseball fans? There's a chance -- for everyone.

    I've been thinking about this potential idea a lot lately. I think potential is what makes sports great. It's what keeps loyal fans tuned in. "Tonight might be the night they play like I know they can!" Any every fan believes if their team plays like they're capable, they can win. Maybe that's a silly rationalization from us broken down Cubs fans, but I think it rings true for every loyal fan.

    Really glad to see this blog. Did you know that designing and growing a blog is one of the things I get paid money for?

  5. One more thing -- did you guys realize that VSU signed 43 today? FORTY-THREE. Did everyone graduate last year?

  6. I did not know that you design and grow blogs... and they give you get-food paper for it? Wow... must be nice. If you have any suggestions/ideas definitely let me know.

    There are definitely alternative ways to look at potential. I call them: Realistic and UGA Football. Okay, that is a bit of a dig, but, seriously, jaded fans can only hinder a day like signing day.

    These rankings on recruiting classes are so speculatory that I find them absurd. For those of that have been in or around athletics and athletic departments for a small time, the cast is many, the catch is plentiful, but only a few make it to the dinner plate.

    I just looked over VSU's signing class a couple of minutes ago. UGA transfer to play safety... the QB from Texas may be a steal too. Not many VSU greats have come outside the borders of Florida or Georgia.

  7. Well, it's one of the things I do, not the only thing I do. Here's the one I do for my company:

    I think coaches have a lot to do with potential as well. The player has to be willing to learn, and the coaches have to know the right things to teach. Seems like that's a bit of a rare combo, thus proving your metaphor.