Ilya Kovalchuk Is Back And He Doesn't Look Half Bad

The L.A. Kings picked up their first win of this young season by defeating the Red Wings 4-2 on Sunday night. Back-up goalie Jack Campbell deserves plenty of the credit for those two points by holding strong for 36 saves in an emergency start, but perhaps the most encouraging work of the night came from the Kings’ marquee acquisition: Ilya Kovalchuk, the goal-scoring machine who’s just returned to the NHL after a five-year stint in Russia.


After a forgettable debut against the Sharks on Friday, Kovalchuk picked up the first two points of his American comeback against Detroit, dishing out a pair of assists on L.A.’s first and third goals of the game. The opener was legitimately pretty, as Kovalchuk made a slightly off-balance deke to his left to enter the attacking zone, then turned around to hit a trailing Anze Kopitar, who patiently skated in and backhanded the finish past Jonathan Bernier.

Kovalchuk would lose a breakaway opportunity in the second when he failed to control a long pass, but his follow-up assist, which made the game 3-1, was an impressive piece of hustle and experienced anticipation from the 35-year-old. Chasing down a puck behind the Wings’ own net, Kovalchuk took advantage of a rookie mistake by Libor Sulak, who lazily tried to send a pass into the corner without realizing Kovalchuk was right there and ready to intercept. Kovy pounced and quickly sent a backhand right into the slot where the puck was flush for an Alex Iafallo GWG.

Kovalchuk has talked already about his need to readjust to NHL ice* and compensate for the speed disadvantage he now faces, but on the line alongside Kopitar and Iafallo, he seems to be a smooth fit. Kovalchuk won’t lead the league in scoring, but it seems like he’s a more-than-serviceable weapon in space for a Kings team that was offensively challenged last year. And with Jonathan Quick out for an indefinite period of time with a lower-body injury, L.A. is going to be in desperate need of more production from its less familiar faces.

Correction (4:13 p.m.): The post originally misstated that Kovalchuk said he needed to adjust to larger NHL rinks. NHL rinks are actually smaller than KHL rinks, and Kovalchuk was referring to the size of the arenas.