The offensively-challenged New Jersey Devils are tied for last in the Eastern Conference. Things aren’t about to get any easier as they embark on a six-game road trip with their highest-paid player’s status up in the air.
Kovalchuk, who signed a 15-year, $100 million contract in September after an initial 17-year, $102 million deal was rejected by the NHL for circumventing salary cap rules, is tied for the team lead with five points. However, he was held out of Saturday’s 6-1 home loss to Buffalo in a very surprising move.
Devils coach John MacLean said Kovalchuk - a six-time 40-goal scorer - was aware of why he was benched, but did not offer any further explanation.
“I’m not discussing it,” MacLean said. “It was my decision. I made it. He knows. I spoke to him and that’s where it’s going to stay.”
Kovalchuk was unavailable for comment after the game and his status against the Rangers remains uncertain.
“I’ll make that decision in the morning,” MacLean said.
The Devils (2-5-1) are averaging an NHL-worst 1.75 goals per game as they were held to one goal for the fourth time this season, but aren’t making excuses for their performance.
“We’re all professionals, no matter who’s in, who’s out,” right wing David Clarkson(notes) told the team’s official website. “We’ve got to go out there and still play our game. Kovy’s obviously an unbelievable player and adds so much to this team, but we’ve got to go out there and still play better than we did tonight.”
Brodeur stopped 12 of 14 shots, and is likely to be back in goal against the Rangers. The all-time leader in wins and shutouts has a 1.99 goals-against average in his last nine visits to Madison Square Garden, but is just 2-5-2.
While the Devils can’t seem to get things together, the Rangers are coming off back-to-back wins, including 3-2 over Boston on Saturday.
Though his team recorded 37 penalty minutes, coach John Tortorella was pleased with his team’s performance.
“We’ve got some good things in our locker room, how we handle ourselves as far as protecting one another, just the whole feeling of the locker room,” he said. “But we have to maintain discipline.”
“Guys have been stepping up and we’ve been playing better, and we’ve come together more as a team, playing a better team game,” Staal told the Rangers’ official website. “It’s good to see.”
With Lundqvist expected to be in net Sunday, the Rangers could be in position to pick up their first home victory of the season. Lundqvist is 11-2-2 with a 1.31 GAA and four shutouts against New Jersey at MSG in his career.