The club went on a forgettable 3-8-2 downward spiral recently when goalie Martin Brodeur suffered a pinched nerve in his neck/back and spent 10 games on injured reserve. New Jersey notched its second straight victory with Brodeur back between the pipes on Saturday, 2-1 against the Florida Panthers at Prudential Center.
Right Wing - NJD
GOALS: 10 | ASST: 17 | PTS: 27
SOG: 113 | +/-: -2
But the victory came at a cost as the Devils might now have to begin their three-game road swing in Ottawa, Tampa Bay and Florida without the services of their second-highest point producer.
Kovalchuk appeared to hurt his right shoulder when he broke in 1-on-4 before losing his edge and barreling into the end boards behind the Panthers' net with 10:53 remaining in the third period and New Jersey leading, 2-1.
He was attempting to curl defenseman Colby Robak on the play. The big 6-foot-3, 230-pound Russian skated off the ice on his own power, wincing in pain, to the Devils' dressing room. The capacity crowd went silent.
"He's, obviously, probably going to be out for at least a short time, so we'll have to fill that hole," DeBoer said after the game. "It's a shoulder injury, but I don't know the details or the extent. He's going to get some testing [Saturday night] and [Sunday] morning and we'll know more [Sunday].
"Injuries are a part of this and everybody is dealing with them, so we have to be prepared for that," DeBoer continued. "I think, mentally, coming into this season, we were prepared that we were going to have to lose key people and survive it. No one is feeling sorry for us and we'll get through it."
If Kovalchuk misses time, the Devils will once again have to dig deep without the services of a key player in the lineup. The team is currently seventh in the Eastern Conference with 15 wins and 36 points.
Kovalchuk was unavailable for comment after the game, but his teammates were more than willing to discuss what his potential loss -- even it's only a few games -- would mean.
"Hopefully, it's nothing major," Devils forward Travis Zajac said. "He's a huge part of our team. Every part of the game, he's dynamic -- 5-on-5, power-play. He makes our power play a lot better, so hopefully nothing major comes of this and we can get him back because we need him here."
David Clarkson, whose goal midway through the second period gave the Devils a 2-0 lead on the Panthers, said Kovalchuck's absence was certainly felt during the team's uninterrupted five-minute power-play shortly after Kovalchuk left the ice.
"On the five minute power-play, we definitely missed him," Clarkson said.
The Devils generated four shots on a five-minute cross-checking major penalty issued to Robak on New Jersey's Tim Sestito. DeBoer said after the game that Sestito "will be fine."
"Anytime you see a player go down like that -- and it could be anybody in this room -- they are all important to this team," Clarkson said. "When you see a guy like Kovy go down … he's played through a lot of things. I've seen him play through a lot, so when he goes down like that, yeah, it's scary. Hopefully, he's alright."
"It is what it is. We have a job to do and if he's gone for a little while, it will affect us, but other guys will have to step in. You just hope it's not too serious and he's OK. He's a big bear. He'll be fine." -- Martin Brodeur on Ilya Kovalchuk
Brodeur knows now is the time for the Devils to bear down.
"It is what it is. We have a job to do and if he's gone for a little while, it will affect us, but other guys will have to step in," Brodeur said. "You just hope it's not too serious and he's OK. He's a big bear. He'll be fine."
Kovalchuk has 10 goals and 27 points in 32 games this season.
"At least he was able to skate off by himself to the bench," Brodeur said. "I don't know the injury and hopefully it's not too serious. It may have looked a lot worse with the way he fell. It's tough because we have a few big players, not just talent wise, but size wise, that are hurt now with [Alexei Ponikarovsky], Zubie [Dainuis Zubrus].
"If we're missing Kovy, that's three big guys," Brodeur continued. "We have small guys on our team, so we need the size, especially when we're going on the road for three games."
"I don't know what the situation is, but you hope for the best," Devils center Adam Henrique said. "We'll see, but Kovy is important to this team -- on and off the ice."