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Ilya Kovalchuk feels like he didnt have a chance after Willie Desjardins took over
22 2019 . Los Angeles Times. By Curtis Zupke

Ilya Kovalchuk looked sharp in a dark blue suit and loafers without socks when he appeared outside of the Kings locker room after a recent game.

The Kings played the Florida Panthers, a team that Kovalchuk feasted on early in his career with 35 goals, his second-most against any opponent. But Kovalchuk didnt play that night, and it wasnt because of injury.

Kovalchuk has not played in two of the past three games because of a coachs decision by Willie Desjardins, and Kovalchuks short response to that Friday summed up a long season.

Its horrible, he said.

Kovalchuk would rather wear his uniform rather than a suit, a feeling echoed by Jonny Brodzinski, another forward that Desjardins has benched to mix things up and play younger players.

But theyre not playing young guys, Kovalchuk said. Theyre playing seven D.

Desjardins has employed an 11-forward, seven-defensemen lineup three times in the past five games, and the Kings are 2-1 in that split. But it creates an awkward situation to bench a prideful Kovalchuk.

I think its a tough thing for him, Desjardins said. Were at a time now where we need to look at some young players as well. Thats just a hard spot for the other players. It puts them in a bad spot. But I have a lot of respect for him, and his love for the game.

Kovalchuk is an example of a Kings season that started with potential, then nosedived. Kovalchuk started out with Anze Kopitar on the top line but gradually fell down the depth chart. The Kings lost six of their first nine games under Desjardins and Kovalchuk barely saw the ice in a late November stretch.

After Willie came here, I dont have a chance, Kovalchuk said. I play five, six minutes a game. A few games I play with Kopi. We did well. We score all five games, but then he decided to change and I never play again much. Thats the way he sees the situation. Hes the head coach and hes responsible for results.

Kovalchuk hasnt changed his thinking about staying with the team that signed him to a three-year, $18.75 million contract. No, Im not like that, he said. His wife and four children have settled in the area and hes willing to persevere.

Its another challenge for me, Kovalchuk said. Im even more motivated now because [this has happened] like, its not fair to me but Im not going to cry in the pillow. The suns up and the kids are in school and theyre happy and thats most important thing. I will find a way to go through this, for sure.

Brodzinski is frustrated, too, especially since he returned from a major shoulder injury to play eight games, only to be sat the past four.

That was the one thing keeping me motivated, really, throughout the whole process of being hurt, was coming back and getting my chances, Brodzinski said. [The idea] at the beginning of the year, was continue to play with [Adrian Kempe] and [Alex Iafallo], really trying to catch my stride here. I feel like I havent really done that. Its kind of frustrating, but Ive got to keep my head down and just keep plugging away.

Brodzinski could go back into the lineup by default Saturday because Brendan Leipsic looks to be a few days from returning from a lower-body injury, Desjardins said. In the larger construct, its already a lost season for Brodzinski, who needed to hit the career 80-game mark this season in order to avoid being an unrestricted, Group 6 free agent.

It was definitely the worst possible moment to get hurt in my career, for sure, Brodzinski said.

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