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Center Ice roundup: Ilya Kovalchuk, the Isles lose again and Marian Gaborik's return

 -- Oh, Ilya... Perhaps this quote from last week will give us all some insight into the Kovalchuk mindset:

Yeah, but I’ve got 15 years to make an impression,” Kovalchuk told the Star Ledger's Steve Politi. “It doesn’t have to be right away.”

 

Last night’s shootout failure isn’t the end of the world for Kovalchuk and the Devils, who actually got some offense going in getting just their second point in eight home games. But the $102-million man is drifting, badly, and it’s a real question whether he has the maturity and fortitude to turn it around.

 

I can armchair QB the Devils’ ridiculous decision to spend all summer trying to wrangle Kovalchuk because I was never for it; the Devils already had a star scorer in Zach Parise, and they managed to turn him into a second banana with their all-out pursuit of Kovalchuk.

 

Look down the list of Cup champions for the past decade. Several have leading scorers and captains who came from other organizations, but they were the type of players brought in to provide leadership (Scott Stevens, Dave Andreychuk, Rod Brind’Amour), not to be headliners.

 

And the more recent trend is towards home-grown cores to build title contenders. The Devils had holes, to be sure; Lou Lamoriello tried to fill them with Anton Volchenkov, Henrik Tallinder and Johan Hedberg. If he’d stuck with those three free-agent signings, the Devils could certainly be in the same position they are now, since they’re still decimated by injuries and lousy defense.

 

But the Kovalchuk factor makes this a much, much tougher hole to dig out of. If he’s a pouter -- and his Thrashers history doesn’t make him look like a particularly strong guy mentally -- this will drag on.

 

-- Another solid effort, another loss for the Isles. That’s eight straight, four shy of the franchise record in the 1988-89 season; and yes, Terry Simpson was fired in the midst of that 12-game losing skid, with Al Arbour replacing him.

 

Which should tell you two things: 1) It would still be a mistake to fire Scott Gordon, but something has to give eventually; and 2) there is no Arbour waiting in the wings to try and turn this thing around.

 

If you believe the Islanders would be better off with a new coach, that certainly makes sense. No matter how hard the Islanders are playing right now or how close they are to ending the streak, nothing’s working.

 

But again, what’s the alternative? I’m still not sure Garth Snow has a viable one right now.

 

-- Marian Gaborik returns tonight, and it’s good timing for him, with the Sabres missing Ryan Miller (lower body) and having allowed 52 goals in 16 games. Of course, the Sabres are inexplicably 5-3-1 on the road and 0-6-1 at home, so the Rangers and their 2-5-1 home record should be wary, as usual.

 

It appears Gaborik will start tonight’s game with Erik Christensen and Alex Frolov, the two Rangers forwards most in need of a jump-start. Christensen absolutely needs to find the chemistry he had with Gaborik or his minutes will go elsewhere, likely to Derek Stepan, who could also use a good playmaker like Gaborik on his wing.

 

Matt Gilroy also gets a chance to have at least three straight games of work with Michal Rozsival (shoulder) out. Pavel Valentenko (0-1 in 16 games, even plus/minus) and Ryan McDonagh (0-1 in 16, -7) aren’t exactly setting the world on fire for the Wolfpack, so Gilroy’s the man for now.

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