Ilya Kovalchuk doesn’t mind if his offensive production isn’t up to his standards, so long as the New Jersey Devils keep winning.
If their goaltending is as good as it has been recently, they’ll have a solid chance to earn a third consecutive victory Thursday night against a visiting Tampa Bay Lightning team that is suddenly having trouble scoring.
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Kovalchuk scored two goals and added three assists in New Jersey’s first four games, but he hasn’t recorded a point in the last five and had only one shot on goal in Tuesday’s 3-1 win over the New York Rangers.
It marked the second straight victory for the Devils (5-1-3) following an 0-1-3 stretch despite Kovalchuk’s longest drought since not recording a point in six straight Nov. 20-Dec. 2, 2010.
“It’s all about the team. If we’ll be struggling as a team, it’ll be a different story,” said Kovalchuk, who has five goals and six assists in his last eight games against Tampa Bay (6-3-0).
“I think I can produce more, that’s for sure. But overall, I think we’re playing well so it doesn’t really matter.”
Coach Peter DeBoer isn’t worried, either.
“Kovy’s doing a lot of little things the right way that are helping us win games,” DeBoer said. “He’s getting chances. Those are eventually going to go in for him.”
New Jersey’s last two opponents have had trouble putting pucks in the net as well. Johan Hedberg made 22 saves in 3-0 win over the New York Islanders on Sunday before Martin Brodeur stopped 24 shots Tuesday.
DeBoer is confident in whoever he chooses to play in net Thursday.
“We’ve gotten great goaltending so far,” DeBoer said. “That’s a key for any team in this league. It gives you a chance to win every night.”
The Devils have won 16 of the last 19 meetings with the Lightning – including eight of 10 at home – and Brodeur is 12-2-0 with a 2.40 goals-against average in his last 14 appearances versus Tampa Bay, including 13 starts.
Brodeur, though, allowed four goals in each of his last two home starts against the Lightning, who will be looking to rediscover their offense.
Tampa Bay won six of its first seven while averaging 5.3 goals, though it has scored a total of three while dropping its last two contests. It finished with a season-low 24 shots on net in a 2-1 loss to Philadelphia on Tuesday in the opener of a four-game road trip.
“Those big-scoring games, those don’t help you at all,” coach Guy Boucher said. “You get the feeling that you’re very powerful offensively and things are going to just come.”
Though the Lightning have offensive weapons like Steven Stamkos (seven goals, nine assists) and Martin St. Louis (three goals, 11 assists), Boucher would like to see his team become more accustomed to winning close games.
Stamkos was held without a point for the first time this season Tuesday.
“More than 70 percent of games in the NHL are won by one goal,” Boucher said. “We have to be a team that excels at that … because as we go along, that’s what it’s going to be.”
Anders Lindback, who has a 2.01 GAA in his last four starts, will be in net Thursday. He won his only career start against Brodeur and the Devils on Dec. 17, 2010, making 15 saves in a 3-1 victory for Nashville.