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Winning Play: Kovalchuk & the case of the missing one-timer

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Oct 5, 2018; Los Angeles, CA, USA;San Jose Sharks center Tomas Hertl (48) and Los Angeles Kings left wing Ilya Kovalchuk (17) battle for the puck k in the third period at Staples Center. The Sharks defeated the Kings 3-2 in overtime. Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

This is what the San Jose Sharks envisioned when they acquired Erik Karlsson:

Karlsson (65) to Brent Burns (88) for the one-timer from the left dot — of course, Joe Pavelski (8) made an all-important cameo here, too.

In much the same way, this is what the Los Angeles Kings envisioned when they acquired Ilya Kovalchuk:

This one-timer on the power play opened scoring.

But while Karlsson and the Sharks are swimming up the standings, yesterday afternoon’s 3-2 overtime loss to Los Angeles withstanding, Kovalchuk and the Kings are struggling with their move out of the Western Conference basement.

LA’s power play, ranked 25th in the league with a 14.7 percentage success rate, is also in the cellar. A reason for this is the failure to unleash Kovalchuk and his one-timer on the man advantage:

For one day, Los Angeles got what they paid for with the 35-year-old Russian sniper, who also added the overtime winner.

Kovalchuk (17) gave the lionshare of the credit for his power play strike to Jake Muzzin (6).

“Muzz, he makes a great pass,” said Kovalchuk. “He was waiting, waiting and I got it off the one-timer.”

Muzzin’s fake shot fooled Melker Karlsson (68) and froze Justin Braun (61). This was just Kovalchuk’s second power play goal this year, both off one-timers.

So why haven’t the Kings been able to make Kovalchuk a “shot threat” on the power play?

He seems to be shooting enough at 5-on-4. His 25.05 Individual Corsi For/60 isn’t far off his career figure. In fact, his 15.03 5-on-4 Individual Shots/60 is higher than any number than he recorded from 2007-13, when he last played in the NHL.

But digging further, there’s reason to believe that penalty killers just know what’s coming from Kovalchuk.

Kovalchuk has attempted 30 shots ar 5-on-4 this season, 16 of them one-timers. That’s not terrible. But a small sample size trend appears to emerge as we look at every one-timer and its result:

That’s five blocked one-timers out of the right-hander’s last 12 attempts, most from the top of left circle, the so-called “Ovie spot,” where Los Angeles hoped to incorporate Kovalchuk. October 28th’s one-timer goal was from between the circles, so that makes yesterday afternoon’s strike his first “Ovie spot” goal of the year, almost three months into the season. That certainly wasn’t what Rob Blake imagined when he signed Kovalchuk.

It’s also worth noting that Kovalchuk has been shooting a lot less at 5-on-4 recently. In his first 36.3 minutes of 5-on-4 this season, he fired 20 shot attempts and 11 one-timers. In his last 35.6 minutes of 5-on-4, including yesterday afternoon, he has offered up just 10 shot attempts and five one-timers. This could be a sign that Kovalchuk’s teammates are going away from him because he hasn’t been getting himself open enough or his shot has lost some pop or penalty kills are just reading the Kings like a book.

Of course, San Jose and Burns can also be predictable, but Los Angeles doesn’t have threats like Karlsson or Pavelski to draw attention away from Kovalchuk.

So what relevance does this have to the Sharks? Frankly, not much. There isn’t necessarily reason to believe, despite yesterday’s result, that Kovalchuk or the Kings will find the fountain of youth and challenge San Jose’s playoff hopes.

But regardless, the Sharks should be upset at themselves for falling behind 10-1 shots in the first five minutes, with the defensive breakdowns that led to Oscar Fantenberg’s overturned goal and Alex Iafallo’s score.

“We got what we deserved,” Pete DeBoer acknowledged of his team’s thoroughly unremarkable effort.

Having won seven of their last nine and coming off an exemplary effort against one of the best teams in the Western Conference, DeBoer seemed willing to overlook this letdown. But for a San Jose squad that’s still trying to establish who they are, how they respond to visiting Arizona this evening may be telling.