Devils get shootout win, Are they legit plus more on Kovalchuk’s hot start and crowded East

The Thrashers are one game under .500 (18-19-1) with their 37 points placing them 13th in the ultracompetitive Eastern Conference.

That’s one fewer than Philly, the Isles and Leafs who are all tied for 10th. It’s also two behind the ninth place Panthers who fell at home to the Canadiens 5-1 tonight. And the Thrashers are even just three points fewer than a ridiculous four-way tie for fifth (NYR, Bruins, Pens and Sabres).

With their second straight victory, the Habs have 42 points moving into sole possession of fourth in the East.

This is the parity that Gary Bettman envisioned when he locked out the players for a historic entire season in 2004-05.

Oh btw…the slumping Bolts and Caps who share last in the conference also have 33 points and can easily get back in the mix with one three-game win streak. That’s all it will take.

So, is this much uncertainty good or bad for the league? From a fan perspective, it certainly makes things interesting.

Are the Devils really the second best club to Ottawa in the East? Debatable. On one hand with their come from behind 2-1 shootout win at home over Buffalo, they’re playing well and lead the Atlantic by five points. On the other, they’re not scoring much but finding ways to pull games out.

So, which is it? Tough to say. Did you know that their record against the division is only 6-6-3? Including tonight’s win on a Zach Parise shootout tally which stood up thanks to three big stops from Martin Brodeur, the Devils are a combined 12-5-0 against the rest of the conference comprising the Northeast and Southeast.

Makes ya wonder, huh? You look at their goal differential (89 GF, 86 GA) and there’s not much separating each column. But you don’t get extra style points for how you pick up the two points. Just as long as you come away with the ‘W,’ you’ll be in good position.

Their next game is against one of the teams they haven’t beaten yet in the Islanders. But they’ll probably again be without starter Rick DiPietro who’s missed nearly the last couple with a knee sprain.

Fyi…the Rangers own the division’s best record (10-4-0) with three of four defeats coming to those Fishsticks who are second best (8-5-0).

NYR vs rest of East: 8-8-3
NYI vs rest of East: 9-11-1

Note: The Devils are 3-2-0 vs West while the Rangers are 0-3-1 and the Isles 1-0-1.

There’s your difference folks.

So, who now believes decreasing from eight games each against divisional foes is a good thing?

Just saying. We already had our solution to this problem. Too bad league brass aren’t listening.

Now for a little more on Ilya Kovalchuk’s sizzling start and how he compares:

From The Stat Wizards At The Elias Sports Bureau:

Kovalchuk First To 30Atlanta’s Ilya Kovalchuk became the first NHL player to reach the 30-goal plateau this season when he scored the first of his two goals in the Thrashers’ 5-3 loss to Florida last night.

This is the first season in which a player has scored 30 goals before the end of December since 1999-2000, when the Penguins’ Jaromir Jagr reached the mark on Dec. 30.

The last season in which a player was the first to score 30 goals at an earlier date than Kovalchuk it this season was 1997-98, when Anaheim’s Teemu Selanne did it on December 22.

First NHL player to score 30 goals (since 1997-98)

2007-08 Ilya Kovalchuk, Atl. December 27
2006-07 Teemu Selanne, Ana. January 18
2005-06 Ilya Kovalchuk, Atl. January 6
2003-04 Rick Nash, CBJ January 24
2002-03 Markus Naslund, Van. January 8
2001-02 Jarome Iginla, Cgy. January 17
2000-01 Markus Naslund, Van. January 24
1999-00 Jaromir Jagr, Pit. December 30
1998-99 John LeClair, Phi. January 30
1997-98 Teemu Selanne, Ana. December 22

Well, would you look at that? It’s the fastest to 30 in a decade since The Finnish Flash accomplished it five days quicker with the Ducks.

If Kovalchuk continues his torrid pace and somehow gets the Thrashers into the playoffs, forget all the other candidates for the Hart. The Russian sniper will deserve to win it because he’s not on a good team.

So, you can argue the exploits of Henrik Zetterberg, the Sens trio, Sidney Crosby, Brodeur, Jarome Iginla, etc.

It’s so much more difficult to score at that clip these days. Not with how athletic the goalies are and how fundamentally sound players are. Coaching and team defense is so much better that it intimidates even the league’s best from challenging goalies from even 15-20 feet in. It seems to always be about moving them laterally and making one too many passes.

Kovalchuk’s season so far is special and it will be a joy to follow and see where he finishes for this blogger. I’m rooting for him to get to 60! How about you?


About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included two stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil games. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has scored Berkeley Carroll basketball games since 2006 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. From players, coaches to administrators, it's a first class program. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree.
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