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Kovalchuk's frustrations build as Devils lose again

by Mike G. Morreale
NEWARK, N.J. -- Ilya Kovalchuk has never looked this downcast.
The New Jersey Devils' forward was at a loss for words following one of the most frustrating games of his nine-season career, a 5-4 shootout loss to the Buffalo Sabres at Prudential Center on Wednesday night.
On two occasions with the game on the line and the puck on his stick, Kovalchuk, who signed a 15-year, $100 million contract with the Devils this summer, couldn't get the job done.
When asked after the game if he's ever experienced anything like this before, he replied, "No."
With less than two minutes remaining in regulation, Kovalchuk broke in on Sabres rookie goalie Jhonas Enroth on a breakaway but fired high and over the net.
"I tried something. It didn't work out real well, so I will practice more on my shot," Kovalchuk said.
With the Devils needing a goal to answer the go-ahead score provided by Buffalo's Derek Roy in the shootout, Kovalchuk skated in and lost the puck between the circles -- it rolled harmlessly toward the boards, ending the game.
"The puck rolled off my stick. That's it," Kovalchuk admitted.
It was at that point that a cascade of boos reigned down on Kovalchuk, who was immediately approached by Devils captain Jaime Langenbrunner. The loss left the Devils winless at home this season (0-5-2).

Langenbrunner tapped Kovalchuk on his shin pads, but, at that point, you could sense the frustration mounting.

"It's unfortunate, obviously, he's pressing and waiting to do something good so that's last thing you want to see for him," Langenbrunner said. "You want him to gain his confidence back and score a goal, and he's obviously fighting it a little bit. It's unfortunate the way he got treated after it. The rest of us understand what it's like out there, it's too bad."

Kovalchuk totaled 18:52 of ice time against the Sabres, generating three shots on 22 shifts. He has now gone seven games without a goal and has just three all season.

"You can tell he’s trying out there," Langenbrunner said. "He wants to do well every shift, every night, but it's not happening for him. I feel bad for him. He's such a good guy, a guy that wants to be the guy and it's just not happening. It's unfortunate the way he got treated that way in the end."

Enroth, who earned his second straight victory between the pipes for the Sabres, was surprised when Kovalchuk lost the puck.

"I was kind of surprised when he dropped the puck, but I kept my concentration because I wasn't sure if he was allowed to pick it back up and continue," Enroth said.

Devils wing David Clarkson said he expects Kovalchuk to be even stronger for New Jersey's next game against Edmonton at home on Friday.

"There's nothing you can say, the puck jumped off his stick (in the shootout)," Clarkson told "He's a good guy; a good player. It happens to everyone. It's not a play he meant to happen, it's part of hockey and he'll get one next time and hopefully we'll win the next game."

Devils coach John MacLean can sense Kovalchuk pressing at this stage, with the Devils sitting in last place in the Eastern Conference standings.

"For sure he's pressing," he said. "He doesn't want to be in that situation and he's going through a tough time. He just has to hang with it; he'll come out of it."

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
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