Kovalchuk gets Atlanta back in the right direction

Ilya Kovalchuk, who had a goal and two assists last night, scored the game-winning goal in the shootout against Toronto. This was a heated battle between two struggling teams, both looking to find their identities early on in the season. Toronto tied the game up at 4 with only ten seconds to go in regulation. Kovalchuk ended the affair in the shootout by beating Toronto goalie Vesa Toskala high to his glove side.


Kovalchuk scores winner in shootout
Overtime win Thrashers’ first on the road this season

The Atlanta Journal-ConstitutionPublished on: 10/23/07

Toronto — Lost in the miserable start this season for the Thrashers has been an interesting development. Ilya Kovalchuk is emerging as the leader of the team. The player chastised in the past for defensive lapses, for selfish play, is refusing to let this season slip away.

Against the Maple Leafs on Tuesday, the Thrashers overcame a goal scored 13 seconds into the game and one scored with only 9.3 seconds left to earn their first road win of the season, a 5-4 shootout victory.

And Kovalchuk was the reason why. He left a perfect pass for Tobias Enstrom for the Thrashers’ first goal of the game, and Enstrom’s first of his NHL career. He scored the Thrashers second goal of the game, his fifth of the season. His line was by far the team’s most productive.

And when the Thrashers needed a game-winner in the shootout, Kovalchuk delivered. In the past, the shootout wasn’t his strength. On Tuesday night, that didn’t matter.
He slid a shot underneath Vesa Toskala and was mobbed by teammates on the Thrashers’ bench.

“Ilya is a huge competitor,” said general manager and interim coach Don Waddell. “Everybody talks about how he scores goals and that … but he’s been a tremendous leader for us this year, on and off the ice. He’s taken charge of this hockey club, and tonight it was evident from the very first shift that he was going to be a force to be reckoned with.”

The patience the team has shown allowing center Todd White to remain on Kovalchuk’s line is paying off. There’s some chemistry developing between the two, and forward Eric Perrin got several chances as the third member of that line.

Perrin scored his first goal of the season, and his first as a member of the Thrashers.

White scored his second goal of the year, and said he’s witnessing how much teams back off Kovalchuk as he enters the zone because of his speed. White is starting to capitalize on it.

“Kovalchuk’s played well; he has. It was a lot of fun skating with him tonight,” said White. “I thought even at 0-6, he was our best player. He’s battled hard; he’s played well defensively. Tonight was a game where things were working, we have to ride him in those games.”