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Atlantic: Kovalchuk waiting to explode

by Phil Coffey
Conventional wisdom is a popular quality because it's rarely wrong. And conventional wisdom unequivocally says the New Jersey Devils received the best player in the trade that brought Ilya Kovalchuk to New Jersey in exchange for forward Niclas Bergfors, defenseman Johnny Oduya, prospect Patrice Cormier and a swap of draft picks.

And conventional wisdom also states the Devils made the trade for Kovalchuk in order to navigate a path deep into the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

That's good for the Devils since Kovalchuk hasn't been the tonic to New Jersey's offensive woes the way many anticipated. In 16 games with the Devils, Kovalchuk has 5 goals, 7 assists and is a plus-2 with 69 shots. Not too shabby to be sure, but not the offensive powerhouse many were expecting. And the New Jersey power play is converting at just a 17.6-percent clip, resting 17th in the League.

Bergfors has one more point that Kovalchuk to date, netting 7 goals and 6 assists in 17 games, going plus-3 with 55 shots. Both Kovalchuk and Bergfors have one power-play goal.

Kovalchuk knows the drill. He always has been a scorer, so he knows the spotlight is on him in games like this weekend's, where the Devils were bested in a shootout by the Maple Leafs and blanked at home by the St. Louis Blues, 1-0.

"It's almost for last four games," a frustrated Kovalchuk said. "I have to put it in.

"We worked hard for the last 40 minutes after we were kind of flat the first 20," Kovalchuk said of the loss to the Blues. "We had a bad change and they scored a goal, but we had a lot of chances. We hit the post a couple of times. Their goalie made some great saves."

Laviolette backs Boucher -- Brian Boucher is 1-2-1 since taking over as the Flyers' top goalie, beating the Dallas Stars, but coming out on the short end in a home-and-home series with the Atlanta Thrashers.

Sunday's 3-1 loss at home was a tough one for Flyers fans to swallow, but coach Peter Laviolette says not to point the finger at Boucher for this one.

"We need to do a better job as a group -- collectively, everybody -- defensively," Laviolette said. "He (Boucher) has played well. He's given us a chance."

Boucher said Atlanta's Ondrej Pavelec was the better goalie Sunday.

"Yeah, the first period didn't help," Boucher said. "Compared to their goalie there, he made some big saves and we weren't able to score on him. Some credit goes to him, but also it'd be nice if we had a better start than what we had."

There is growing concern among the Flyers based on their uneven play. Defenseman Chris Pronger calls the Flyers "a sometimes team" and Laviolette agrees.

"There's no question (Pronger) is accurate with his statement," Laviolette told the Philadelphia Inquirer. "Since the (Olympic) break, we've been inconsistent, and our record (5-5-2) shows it. It's been a good win, then a not-so-good effort, a poor first period, and then a good second and third. It has been inconsistent, and we're trying to address the situation and come out with a more consistent game."

Well said -- "Everybody's a bad week away from slipping in or slipping out of the playoffs and our week wasn't very good. We've got to let this one soak in and understand what we just let go here and then focus on Tuesday vs. Ottawa." -- Chris Pronger.

Rangers on the brink -- Henrik Lundqvist didn't sugar-coat it when asked about the New York Rangers' play Sunday afternoon in a 2-1 loss to the Bruins.

"It's really disappointing and frustrating because this was the biggest game of the year," Lundqvist told reporters. "They were a little more aggressive. They played a little more physical."

These are dire times for the Rangers, who now are in 10th place in the Eastern Conference, four points behind ninth-place Atlanta and five points behind eighth-seeded Boston. In their last nine games, the Rangers are 2-5-2, and just 10 games remain on the schedule.

"It's been an effort the last few weeks to stay positive and see good things," Lundqvist told Andrew Gross of the Bergen Record. "When you're not winning, it's miserable."

What made the loss especially disappointing for the Rangers was they had identified it as their most important game of the season.

"It puts us within striking distance," Brandon Dubinsky said of the match. "The contrary is we could be pretty far behind. It comes down to a Game 7 for us. We'll be ready to go."

Results did not back up Dubinsky's words.

Bitter loss for Isles -- Fully realizing every point is precious these days, the Islanders' 1-0 loss in Los Angeles Saturday was a bitter pill.

The Islanders now have lost two-straight after a three-game win streak; they're 13th in the East, eight points out of a playoff spot.

"We had some chances. You have to give Jonathan Quick a lot of credit," said Islanders goalie Dwayne Roloson, who made 25 saves against the Kings. "He played very well at the other end. It's tough on back-to-back games. We came out sluggish and the first period we didn't generate that many opportunities. Every good shot we had, Jonathan made a great save."

Around the Atlantic -- Mechanical problems delayed the Rangers' charter flight to Boston, so the team split into two groups and took helicopters and small planes to Boston. ... Flyers rookie James van Riemsdyk has appeared to hit the "rookie wall," going scoreless in 13-straight games. Ditto Claude Giroux, who has 2 goals in 17 games in his first full NHL season. ... Penguins Evgeni Malkin and Matt Cooke did not practice Sunday. Coach Dan Bylsma would not say if Malkin would play Monday in Detroit. Malkin said Saturday after an overtime loss to Carolina that he aggravated his bruised right foot. ... Bylsma told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review he is keeping practices short for a reason these days. "You have to decide what's best for the body and mind at this time of year," Bylsma said. Sunday's practice was only 20 minutes.

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