A coaching change may have factored into the Atlanta Thrashers' turnaround. Ilya Kovalchuk's outstanding play certainly has.
Kovalchuk will face the only team that has prevented him from scoring this month when the Thrashers face the Southeast Division-leading Carolina Hurricanes for the second time in less than a week.
With 12 goals and nine assists over the last 12 games, Kovalchuk has helped Atlanta (8-10-0) go 8-4-0 after opening the season with six consecutive losses. That woeful stretch, combined with being swept in the first round of the playoffs last season, led to the firing of coach Bob Hartley, who was replaced by general manager Don Waddell.
Kovalchuk, among the league leaders with 15 goals and 25 points, scored 25 seconds into overtime on Tuesday to give the Thrashers a 3-2 win over Florida. The All-Star left wing also assisted on Atlanta's other two goals, including the game-tying score by Marian Hossa with 2.6 seconds left in regulation.
"He definitely has a nose for openings and that makes him a fun guy to play with," said Thrashers center Todd White, who assisted on Kovalchuk's goal. "He always sees where the open space is and goes there."
Kovalchuk, though, was held without a point in a 5-3 home loss to Carolina (11-5-3) on Saturday - Atlanta's only loss in the last five games. The 24-year-old Russian has scored in each of the Thrashers' other five games in November, totaling nine goals.
He has been terrific in his last 13 games at Carolina, with 13 goals and nine assists.
Hossa is also on a hot streak with nine of his 12 points coming in the last six games, including a two-goal performance against the Hurricanes to give him five goals in the last three meetings.
Carolina, meanwhile, returns home to open a four-game homestand after losing 6-1 at Tampa Bay on Wednesday.
"Our best players have got to be better," Hurricanes center Eric Staal said. "That's kind of what it boils down to."
The Hurricanes hope Cory Stillman and captain Rob Brind'Amour, two of the top scorers in the NHL with 24 points each, can rebound after being held without a point Wednesday. The duo combined for eight points in the previous two games - both wins - and has been outstanding in winning efforts.
All 11 of Stillman's goals and 20 of his points have come in victories, while Brind'Amour has seven of his eight goals and 19 points in wins. Brind'Amour had two goals at Atlanta on Saturday as Stillman missed the game with a torso injury.
Carolina is hoping for good news concerning Erik Cole, who is listed as day-to-day with a neck injury and will be re-evaluated before Friday's game after missing the loss to the Lightning. The right wing got hurt during Monday's 4-3 win at Florida when he crashed headfirst into Panthers goaltender Tomas Vokoun.
|Mar 28 '08||ATL 1 at CAR 7||J. Hamilton|
|Mar 19 '08||CAR 5 at ATL 3||J. Jensen|
|Mar 05 '08||CAR 6 at ATL 3||E. Cole|
|Feb 21 '08||ATL 3 at CAR 5||S. Walker|
|Jan 04 '08||CAR 4 at ATL 3||C. Stillman|
|Jan 02 '08||ATL 5 at CAR 4 - OT||M. Hossa|
|Nov 16 '07||ATL 3 at CAR 0||M. Hossa|
|Nov 10 '07||CAR 5 at ATL 3||C. Stillman|