NEWARK, N.J. -- It's only a four-game snapshot, but Ilya Kovalchuk is looking good and feeling good despite logging ice time befitting a No. 1 defenseman, not a first- or second-line left wing.
Kovalchuk enters Friday's game against San Jose fourth in the NHL in ice time per game at 27:01.
Last season, he was 45th in the NHL -- although first among forwards -- at 22:33 per game.
"The season just started, so it's too early to say anything, but it works," Kovalchuk, who has 4 points through four games, told NHL.com. "The team played well and the coach decided to play me a lot of minutes. I was ready for it and I like to play a lot."
Devils coach Peter DeBoer said Thursday that the minutes Kovalchuk are playing are more a result of a favorable early-season schedule. New Jersey played its first four games over an eight-day span, and hasn't played since last Saturday.
Also pumping up Kovalchuk's minutes is the fact that the Devils have averaged over four power plays per game this season, and he rarely, if ever, comes off the ice when the team has the man-advantage. Kovalchuk also is playing some on the penalty kill.
"Obviously he's not going to play that much as the season goes on, but we've had a favorable schedule early here that we can give out some bigger minutes to some guys because of the way it's set up," DeBoer said. "It's not going to continue at that amount, but he's gotten my confidence that he's a big-minute guy. He has that type of engine and he's that type of skater that you can play him and it's not going to have an adverse effect on him the next day."
Kovalchuk agreed, saying his body feels fine after he plays a lot of minutes, especially when it comes during a Devils win.
"It's the worst when the team didn't play well and you played a lot of minutes," Kovalchuk said. "If nothing comes of it, that's when you get tired. But I'm used to playing a lot and it never bothers me. I want to play a lot and I feel much better when I play a lot of minutes."
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