|Ilya Kovalchuk played 30 minutes on Saturday, and that's pretty incredible. (Getty Images)|
Does Ilya Kovalchuk ever get tired?
He entered Saturday's game having played more than any other forward in the NHL -- by a wide margin -- averaging more than 26 minutes per game. That average only went up following the Devils' 3-1 win against Pittsburgh after Kovalchuk played an almost unbelievable 30 minutes, including nearly four minutes on the penalty kill (more than any other Devils forward).
He literally played half the game. The only other player to log even 25 minutes on Saturday was Pittsburgh defenseman Paul Martin.
How rare is it to see a forward play that many minutes in a game? Well, since the start of the 2005-06 season it's only the 14th time a forward has played at least 30 minutes in a regular-season game. Kovalchuk is responsible for seven of those games (Brad Richards has four, Alex Ovechkin, Joe Thornton, and Niklas Sundstrom, of all people, all have one).
Even more impressive is the fact that his effort on Saturday was just the third time one of those forwards did it in a game that did not go to overtime.
Playing a lot of minutes is nothing new for Kovalchuk. He's been first or second among forwards in ice time in each of the past three seasons, leading the league in each of the last two, and in the top 10 in each of the past five.
Since 2005-06 he has 15 of the top 40 games in terms of most-minutes played among forwards (via hockey-reference).
Since going to New Jersey during the 2009-10 season Kovalchuk has competely reinvented himself as a player. He's a better two-way player than he was in Atlanta and is not only a regular on the Devils penalty kill, but has also been a very positive addition to it. Since the start of last season, the Devils have scored six shorthanded goals with him on the ice (he's had a hand in all of them) and only allowed six power-play goals (he hit the crossbar on a shorthanded rush on Saturday). If you can play that many shorthanded minutes and come out even, you're doing a pretty darn good job.
And he's done all of that without really losing much of the offense that made him such a threat in the early part of his career.
He's not the soft, one-dimensional player so many thought he was much of his career. Far from it.