Before their home game against the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday night, Ilya Kovalchuk(notes) wasn't out for warm-ups for the New Jersey Devils. Then he wasn't on the bench for the New Jersey Devils. Then the team sent the tweet heard ‘round the hockey world:
Kovalchuk is a healthy scratch.
Tom Gulitti of the Bergen Record noticed Kovalchuk "working on his game sticks this morning in the locker room after the skate," seemingly with the intention of playing.
Left wing Ilya Kovalchuk is not in the Devils' lineup. A team spokesperson said Kovalchuk is a healthy scratch. Rookie left wing Alexander Vasyunov(notes) was called up late this afternoon to take his place in the lineup. The team didn't announce Vasyunov's call-up until about 6:10 p.m.
Kovalchuk participated in the optional morning skate today and in Friday's practice. He was working on his game sticks this morning outside the locker room after the skate. This is the first game he has missed with the Devils since joining them in a Feb. 4 trade with Atlanta.
Kovalchuk entered tonight tied for the team lead with five points including two goals, skating to a minus-3. Hewas dropped from the Devils' top line with Travis Zajac(notes) and Zach Parise(notes) before the Devils' last game against the Montreal Canadiens, which was a 3-0 win that saw Parise, Zajac and Dainius Zubrus(notes) combine for the first goal and Kovalchuk fail to tally a point on one shot.
Kovalchuk hasn't played poorly at all, and the speed with which this decision came down might lead one to believe it could be something besides his on-ice play that was the catalyst for this.
More on this as it becomes available. And with that, we turn the mic over to PD's Sean Leahy: "Devils are just trying keep Kovy as fresh as possible for the remaining 15 years. It's a marathon, not a sprint ya know?"
UPDATE: Devils head coach John MacLean made it clear after the game that it was his decision on scratching Kovalchuk.
“That’s between him and I,” MacLean said.“That was my decision.”
“I take responsibility for all my decisions that I make. That’s including that decision and including responsibility for games.” “It was my decision. I made it. He knows. I spoke to him and that’s where it’s going to stay.”