Kings’ Kovalchuk: ‘I don’t have a chance’ playing under coach Desjardins

Los Angeles Kings left wing Ilya Kovalchuk, of Russia, waits during a television timeout during the first period of the team's NHL hockey game against the New Jersey Devils, Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019, in Newark, N.J. (Julio Cortez/AP)

After being left out of the Los Angeles Kings‘ lineup for the second time in three games, Ilya Kovalchuk has spoken — and he didn’t mince words.

The veteran forward, listed as a healthy scratch under interim head coach Willie Desjardins last Saturday against the Florida Panthers and again Thursday versus the San Jose Sharks, openly questioned his coach’s strategy and wasn’t afraid to voice his displeasure about sitting out.

“It’s horrible,” Kovalchuk told The Athletic‘s Lisa Dillman on Friday (subscription required). “That’s the worst. But [Desjardins] didn’t play young guys. He plays seven D. That’s his new strategy.”

Desjardins’ decision to ice an extra defenceman in place of Kovalchuk was a bit of a head-scratcher, considering the usual motivation for scratching veterans at the end of a lost season typically centres around wanting to get a closer look at some AHL call-ups.

“What you can do? That’s his decision and he’s the head coach – 10 more games. What else we can do. Just practice hard and show the young kids that that thing can happen to anybody. You just have to keep going,” said Kovalchuk.

The Kings have struggled from the start of the season and with the exception of a few hot streaks — for both Kovalchuk individually and the team as a whole — the 2018-19 campaign has seen the Pacific club spend most of its time in the league’s basement. A strong start for Kovalchuk quickly petered out, as has his ice time — a trend especially noticeable since Desjardins took the helm after the firing of John Stevens just a month into the season.

“Still we were winning games, we were right there,” Kovalchuk, who has 14 goals and 17 assists through 60 games this year, told Dillman. “After Willie came here, I don’t have a chance. I play five, six minutes a game.”

Now with a record sitting at 26-39-8 with nine games to go and no playoff hopes in sight, the Kings’ disappointing season is essentially in the books.

The 36-year-old, who returned to the NHL last summer when he signed a lucrative three-year deal with the Kings worth $18.75 million, was expected to play alongside Anze Kopitar — and while he did get some time on his captain’s wing, it didn’t last.

“A few games I play with Kopi,” Kovalchuk said. “We did well. We score all five games and then [Desjardins] decide to change and I never play again, much. That’s the way he sees the situation.

“Like I said, he’s the head coach and he’s responsible for result.”

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