In 2009-10, the LA Kings were a playoff team after eight years of wandering the Western Conference wilderness. But, at the start of the year, Terry Murray’s second as head coach, there was a game that got out of hand at Philips Arena in Atlanta. “They took advantage of some opportunities,” Murray said of the 7-0 loss, the team’s most lopsided shutout loss in 24 years.
Ilya Kovalchuk was named the game’s second star after racking up two goals and two assists in the rout.
“Especially in Atlanta, the first couple times we had some rough games in there, and he was on the board quite a bit. Hopefully he does [that] here,” said Anze Kopitar, who will be among those to distribute the puck to Kovalchuk while on the power play.
“His off-side position, it’s very similar to Ovechkin,” Kopitar said. “You want to give it to him that puck as much as you can because he does have a really good shot. That’s what I remember the most of it, but I also remember he burnt us a few times.”
And there was Doughty, on the first day of training camp, working on one-timers with the forward who posted 816 points through his first 816 NHL games.
“He doesn’t miss a shot, so I’m excited to be feeding those,” Doughty said. “It’ll be nice to have a weapon on that left side, because we haven’t had that for a long time.”
Kovalchuk didn’t factor into the scoring as much with New Jersey in the 2012 Stanley Cup Final, when he totaled one goal and no assists in the six-game series. He was slowed by a herniated disc at the time, and ably played through the pain during the Devils’ unexpected run towards the Final. But as he was with Atlanta, he was still one of the most skilled and dangerous players in the league while with New Jersey.
How did the Kings game plan for Kovalchuk then? How, six years later, will they look to incorporate him into the fold as a new forward with a high degree of skill that the team needs to produce to make more noise in the playoffs? How has Kovalchuk started to work with players like Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown, alongside whom he skated on the first morning of training camp?
“I think when we’ll be on the road we’ll know each other better,” Kovalchuk said. “But, right now, it’s all through the work, for sure, because we spend a lot of time together in the facility and training off the ice, on the ice, meetings. We’re talking about what we’re going to do on the ice, so that helps, for sure.”
The Best Shape Of His Life anecdotes flow fast and furious this time of the year, but Doughty’s already impressed with what he’s seen.
“He doesn’t look like he’s lost a step, and if you see this guy in the gym, he’s a tank,” he said. “He just kills it in there. I think he crushed everyone on the bike. He doesn’t seem like he’s 35.”
Jarret Stoll, on game planning for Ilya Kovalchuk in 2012 and prior meetings:
The first thing that comes to mind when you think of Ilya Kovalchuk is he’s a shooter. He gets four or five shots a game and he’s going to score on a lot of those. I don’t know what his shooting percentage is, but I’m sure it’s pretty high over the course of his career. For sure, on the power play, number one, you know where his spot is. It’s Alex Ovechkin’s spot. He’s great at the one-timers off that back side, and it’s just taking that away, knowing where he is, shading to that side. You get that stick in that lane, there’s a little bit of a visual there for his teammate not to give him that puck. But, five-on-five, you just try to be in his face as much as possible, again, know where he is. As a defenseman, even forwards, you might have to block a shot or two, and it might hurt, but it’s going to hurt a lot more if it’s in the back of your net. I thought we did a good job against him. We were kind of over top against him all the time. … He’s going to wow you with his shot more than anything, so I think we were just aware of that, and where he was getting his shots from, too. You didn’t want him to get his shots inside the dots too much, especially on the power play. That was probably most of our game plan with him. You’ve just got to know where those guys are, and sometimes they’re still going to find a way to put the puck in the back of the net, but just limit those shots, limit those shots ot the outside, and with our goaltender, Quickie should make those saves.
Anze Kopitar, on what Kovalchuk will bring to the Kings:
He definitely brings a lot of skill. I think his biggest weapon is his shot so I’m sure we’re going to design some plays to get him the puck so he can shoot it. He’s always been a great shooter and in this league, I know he’s played over there for five years, but from what I saw over the last week, I don’t think he lost a step at all. If anything, I see him being really motivated to be here and really excited, it’s definitely a good thing for us.
Drew Doughty, on how the team will look to make Kovalchuk comfortable both on-ice and off-ice:
It’s both. Obviously talking to him as much as we can off-ice, trying to make him comfortable. He seems comfortable already. He’s smiling around the rink everywhere and having lots of fun, it seems. With families and stuff, it’s obviously harder to get together when we’re at home, just because guys are busy and especially Chucky having a few kids, obviously he’s super busy with that, so when we get on the road, I’m sure we’ll have some dinners and make him feel more welcome, but it seems like he’s fit in amazingly right off the bat, and we’re excited to have him. Really excited.
Ilya Kovalchuk, on whether this camp is any different than previous camps:
No. Actually, in Russia we just started a little bit earlier. We started a month a half before the season starts, so we had more time. But here you have to come up in good shape already. Two more weeks and the season starts, but a few more days and we’ll have some regular exhibition games, and we need to be ready for those.
Kovalchuk, on driving into Toyota Sports Center for the first time:
When I first got to the facility a few days ago, I probably was a little nervous, but now I know the coaching staff, all the guys. They’re nice. They’re all good friends, they’re very helpful and they’re talking to me about everything, so it was good.
-Lead photo via Scott Cunningham/NHLI