In this week’s Q&A, Ken Daneyko talks about a potential Ilya Kovalchuk return, the NHL playoffs, and the NHL Draft Lottery.
MSGNetworks.com: We’ll start off this week with some Devils-related news: According to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, Ilya Kovalchuk is looking to return to the NHL. The Devils hold his rights and he can only sign with another team if all of the other teams in the NHL approve of it. What’s your take on the situation and what do you think Ray Shero will do should Kovalchuk decide to come back?
Ken Daneyko: Well, obviously it’s still speculation. I guess we’ll find out more as the offseason for the Devils goes along here, but [Kovalchuk] is certainly an asset. Realistically, he’s not going to get approval, so that’s probably out of the question.
From what everyone’s saying — and I’m just reading what everyone else is reading — Kovalchuk is Devils property. He’s a very gifted guy and there’s circumstances that we don’t know about when he left to go back to play in the KHL, but he’s a great talent and can score 20 goals with his eyes closed, even at age 34. I still think he’s got some good years in him. Either way, if in fact he decides to come back, it would just another asset and that can only be a positive.
MSGNetworks.com: Moving on to the NHL playoffs to more Devils connections. We saw ex-Devil Vern Fiddler score the game-winning goal in Game 1 of the Predators-Blues series. What was your take on that game and what do you expect from these two teams?
Ken Daneyko: We’ve talked about it time and time again – unlikely sources that score big goals. [Predators coach] Peter Laviolette pushed the right button by putting Fiddler in the lineup and he comes up with a big, timely goal. That’s what you need to be successful.
Game 1 was a good game, it was close and the Blues were able to battle back after falling behind. But to me, Nashville has that “It” factor, a little bit of swagger going on where things are going their way. They’re playing hard, guys are performing and their defense, led by P.K. Subban, is playing terrific hockey. They’re a team that’s awfully tough to contain.
It’ll be interesting to see what St. Louis does to respond. I think it was the first time these playoffs we’ve seen Jake Allen struggle. He was remarkable in Round 1 and it’ll be interesting to see how he responds in Game 2 after what you consider to be a subpar game. That’s going to happen with any young goaltender. It’s the mindset of how you bounce back after allowing a game-winning goal that wasn’t the prettiest. He made the wrong decision to try and lunge for the puck to poke check it instead of holding his ground.
MSGNetworks.com: Moving on to the other Western Conference series and more Devils connections. Adam Larsson scored twice for the Oilers in their Game 1 win against the Ducks. Watching from afar this season, what was your take on his play in Edmonton after spending five years in New Jersey?
Ken Daneyko: Being an Edmonton native, I was preaching the virtues of Adam Larsson to Oilers fans during the offseason when the big deal for Taylor Hall happened. It’s a trade that I would still do in a heartbeat for the Devils because the team needed an exceptional offensive talent like Hall.
On the other end of it, Edmonton needed that type of defensive element. It’s a trade that I think both teams won.
You don’t expect Larsson to have such an offensive game with three points, but he continues to just get better and better. Like I said to some people who were tweeting me not liking the trade, I thought he was going to settle the Oilers’ back end down and give you good, smart hockey in his own zone. That’s something the Oilers probably needed. He’s got a little more offensive upside than he’s shown and at times, he showed with the Devils. He had a big Game 1 and he’s played very well.
Everyone looks too often at statistics and don’t know that there’s more to it when it comes to winning. It’s having the right pieces and elements to be successful. You need guys on the back end to be very sound defensively and I knew that Larsson was going to be that.
MSGNetworks.com: Let’s move on over to the Eastern Conference and the sexiest series of the second round – Pens vs. Caps. What was your take on Game 1 where both Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin scored in Pittsburgh’s win?
Ken Daneyko: It’s always a marquee matchup when these two teams get together. So far, Washington hasn’t found a way — in the playoffs — to beat the Penguins and they couldn’t have played better in Game 1. They still found themselves on the wrong end.
It’s going to take an almost perfect effort for Washington to beat Pittsburgh. They played really well, but they made a couple of mistakes and that’s what the Penguins do. Washington outplayed them, out-chanced them and outshot them, but Pittsburgh being the opportunistic team, were led by the best player in the world turning it up for about a minute to start the second period.
The work ethic of Sidney Crosby is second to none. He scored twice, but he also backchecked ferociously on plays and helped to break up a two-on-one chance for the Caps. If you leave the door open for the Penguins, they’re going to take advantage. The Caps can’t make untimely mistakes and take untimely penalties because the Penguins are going to capitalize. It’s going to be a terrific series if Game 1 was any indication.
MSGNetworks.com: On to the other series in the East where we saw Ottawa take Game 1 against the Rangers. It was a close game with great goaltending that was decided by a freak goal. What was your reaction to it?
Ken Daneyko: It certainly was a hard-fought game and a good game as we expected. Both goaltenders were spectacular and I look at it from a Rangers standpoint that you lost a game where Henrik Lundqvist was outstanding. That’s difficult to take, but you like a lot of things that you did.
But you have to give Ottawa credit and Erik Karlsson proved to be an X-factor in Game 1. He’s one of the best players in the game today and you can say it was a sharp-angle shot, you can say it was a screen, you can say it was a lucky bounce. Great players find a way to get it done in big spots.
That’s what Karlsson does and that’s why he’s a game changer. In this type of series where top guys have to be your top guys, Ottawa has one in Erik Karlsson. Good things happen to players that talented and it’s not a coincidence.
Everyone talks about the Senators’ defensive system, the 1-3-1 trap and how stifling it is. People have a misconception about Ottawa and think that they sit back. They don’t at all! They have a lot of good players when they go on the attack and they were able to fire over 40 shots in Game 1. I know a lot of those were on the power play, but they have plenty of guys that can create offense and sustain pressure in the offensive zone.
MSGNetworks.com: Finally, the NHL Draft Lottery is Saturday. What’s your hope and aspirations for the Devils’ chances to land a high pick?
Ken Daneyko: Well, the higher the pick, the better! It will give them more options in the future and let’s hope it turns out for the best wherever they pick. It’s about time they get some luck and somehow, someway they get a top pick.