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Anderson: Atlanta to stay the course minus Kovalchuk

Tuesday, 10.27.2009 / 3:45 PM / NHL Insider

By John Manasso - NHL.com Correspondent

"I don't think we change our whole thought process because we lose one guy. I would hope not. Again, it's about a team and we can't think, 'Oh, the sky has fallen.'"
-- Thrashers coach John Anderson

DULUTH, GA.  -- After getting off to one of the best starts in franchise history, the Atlanta Thrashers find themselves facing a crisis with Monday's news that Ilya Kovalchuk, their captain and one of the NHL's leading scorers, has a broken right foot.

But coach John Anderson is trying to make it so the crisis does not become one of confidence. The Thrashers are an offensive-minded team and Anderson said that will not change with Kovalchuk out of the lineup for 3-5 weeks.

"I'll still play the same way," Anderson said. "I want us to attack ... I want our (defense) to move up on the play. I want to put pressure. I don't think we change our whole thought process because we lose one guy. I would hope not.

"Again, it's about a team and we can't think, 'Oh, the sky has fallen.'"

Kovalchuk is part of that effort. He said he would like to remain around the team as much as possible, even going so far as expressing the desire to attend road trips. Despite the injury, he was in a chipper mood Tuesday while addressing the media for the first time since the extent of the injury was disclosed.

"Yes, I have to be in a good mood, you know," he said. "I don't want to bring any negative stuff in the room. I'll cry in my pillow back home."

He was hurt Saturday after getting hit by a shot from San Jose's Devin Setoguchi. Injuries are rare for the durable Kovalchuk, who, other than missing the final 27 games of his rookie season with a shoulder injury, has missed only 10 games over the last six seasons. At least two of those absences were for suspensions.

Although Kovalchuk has scored nearly one third of his team's goals this season (nine of 28), the good news is the Thrashers started 4-1-1 before they lost their last two without much help from a group of proven scorers.

The trio of Nik Antropov, Bryan Little and Slava Kozlov has yet to score and Colby Armstrong has 1 goal. Each member of that foursome scored at least 20 goals last season, and they combined for 107.

But Antropov has not practiced the last two days with a sore groin. The Thrashers have recalled forward Jason Krog from Chicago (AHL).

"I think, obviously, I would like to have a couple of goals," said Little, who scored 31 last season, his second in the League. "I look back at the games and I could've easily had two or three pretty good ones. It's a just a matter of bearing down and getting my bounces. I think it's just a matter of time, and if I work hard and I get chances I still think it will come. I'm just trying to be patient right now."

Little may be patient, but Anderson is not. Even before Kovalchuk got hurt, he didn't like how the team was playing. So he put them through two tough practices the last two days, including a training-camp style, two-hour on-ice session Tuesday.

"No question," Anderson said of the need for that foursome to pitch in. "And now. Right now. ... I think they realize it. I think that they're actively doing things in practice to get better and to work on things in practice as to why they're not scoring, but we need that production absolutely right now."

The biggest area where Kovalchuk's absence will be felt is on the power play. At times this season Atlanta has ranked first in the NHL in that category and it entered Tuesday's games ranked fourth, clicking at a 28.1-percent rate.

Forward Rich Peverley has been a major contributor on the power play with 4 goals, and he's tied for third in the NHL with 4 power-play points. Peverley, who plays along the half wall, agreed that he has benefitted from opponents having to focus on Kovalchuk, who mans the point.

"Oh, absolutely, he's a dangerous guy on the power play," Peverley said. "He's got a great shot. And he kind of ad-libs sometimes and maybe that throws teams off."

 
Anderson said he thinks some of Peverley's production has come from a conscious coaching decision to create two separate power-play units that operate distinctly. At times, Peverley has played on the second unit.

Anderson hopes the team's power-play success continues, though he realizes where the help must come from.

"I would hope that Kozzy and Little become part of that, too," he said. "We need some help. It can't just be resting on one or two guys' shoulders. It has to be everybody. ... Even though we're in the top five, we don't want to be satisfied. We want to preach excellence."

The Thrashers will need excellence without Kovalchuk. The star left wing is in the last year of his contract and is desperate to make the playoffs. He said he trusts in the team to win without him.

"It's not a great time for me because I hate to be in the stands," he said. "Hopefully we'll win a lot of games without me."


Quote of the Day

We think that Randy is a very good coach. Our players think that Randy is a very good coach. We think that he's going to get the most out of this group. With the addition of the two assistants, a bit of a different dynamic, we're very comfortable that this is a quality coaching staff that's going to maximize the potential of this team.

— Maple Leafs GM Dave Nonis on head coach Randy Carlyle and his staff