NEWARK, N.J. -- Despite an admirable effort, New Jersey Devils forward Ilya Kovalchuk wasn't able to finish the team's morning skate at Prudential Center and has ruled himself out of his team’s game Saturday against the Winnipeg Jets.
Kovalchuk left halfway through the practice session and never returned.
"Every year it seems I miss one or two games … last year I miss because of different reasons but hopefully, this year, this will be the only game," Kovalchuk told reporters following practice.
Kovalchuk feels his replacement on the top line -- David Clarkson -- will be an admirable fill-in.
"Definitely, he's on fire right now, especially his backhand," Kovalchuk said with a grin.
Kovalchuk left a game Thursday in Philadelphia late in the third period after suffering a leg muscle pull late in regulation a 4-3 shootout win, forcing him to miss overtime and the shootout. Kovalchuk, who averages a team-leading 25:30 of ice time per game, is second on the team with nine points, including two goals, in 11 games this season.
"I talked to [Kovalchuk] this morning and he was feeling better, he wanted to skate," Devils coach Peter DeBoer said. "But we also know there's a lot of hockey left to be played so we don't want to push him into something that could lead to something longer and that's the situation.
"Just on the fact he was out there, felt better and wanted to skate tells me that I don't believe it's long term but I'm not a doctor either and I've been wrong on these things before."
DeBoer feels Clarkson, who has four goals and five points in 11 games this season, has earned an opportunity on the top line alongside center Adam Henrique and left wing Zach Parise
"Clarkie deserves to be there [on the top line]; he's scored two games in a row, had nine shots on net last game and he's had an outstanding start to the season," DeBoer said. "I'm a big believer in rewarding guys for their play and he's worked his way up to with Kovy out there's an opportunity there for him.
"Clarkie just can't start to think he's Kovy."
DeBoer will also be without the services of defenseman Andy Greene for a second consecutive game. Greene sat out Thursday with a lower-body injury. He did skate with the club Saturday, but will not be in the lineup.
"I don't think [Greene's] injury is a long-term thing; it's the same type of thing as Kovy," DeBoer said. "He was playing with it and it wasn't getting better so he needs to rest to get it better. He wasn't helping his cause or ours playing hurt the way he was."
Goalie Johan Hedberg, however, is in good health and will serve as Martin Brodeur's backup against the Jets. Hedberg complained of back pain following the victory Thursday. He told reporters that something "popped" in there in the third period.
"Hedberg really [seized] up after the game and he had trouble really walking out of the rink in Philadelphia so for him to come in [Saturday] and be back pretty much to 100 percent is really good news," DeBoer said.
Brodeur confirmed Friday that he would start against the Jets. While Brodeur did feel some discomfort in his right shoulder following Wednesday's 5-3 loss to Toronto (his first game since Oct. 13), the pain eventually subsided. The game against the Jets will be Brodeur's first appearance against a team from Winnipeg since Dec. 29, 1995 when the Devils suffered a 5-3 setback at the old Winnipeg Arena.
Brodeur sported a mark of 3-1-0 with a 2.26 goals-against average and one shutout against the original Jets. In 11 seasons against the Atlanta Thrashers, Brodeur was 22-8-8 with a 2.16 GAA and seven shutouts.
I downplayed the first one because I thought it's just a hockey game. We just want to win the game; it's against our rival and we want the two points. I downplayed it, but now having gone through the first one I look back and say, 'Geez, that was really cool.' I think as I've grown a bit older I've got a lot more appreciation for what we're allowed to do every day.
— Capitals forward Brooks Laich on the 2015 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic, the second one of his career after 2011 in Pittsburgh