Ilya Kovalchuk is on a tear, and he's about to face one of his favorite opponents.
Kovalchuk looks to build on his recent offensive surge when the resurgent Atlanta Thrashers host the Southeast Division-leading Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday night.
Kovalchuk scored his eighth goal in four games and also had an assist in Friday's 4-1 road win over Florida. The top pick in the 2001 draft, who leads the NHL with 14 goals, has scored once in each of his last two games after posting consecutive hat tricks Nov. 1-3 against Ottawa and Tampa Bay, respectively.
He played Friday despite leaving Tuesday's 2-1 win over Washington in the second period due to back spasms.
"He's going very good, he's shooting the puck and he's also doing a good job defensively," said general manager and interim coach Don Waddell.
The Thrashers (7-9-0) improved to 7-3-0 under Waddell after starting the season 0-6-0 under longtime coach Bob Hartley.
Now, Kovalchuk will be trying to keep his goal-scoring streak alive versus a team he's traditionally fared well against. In 30 career games against Carolina (9-4-3), he has 22 goals - his most against any opponent.
The reigning Southeast champions also have been getting strong goaltending from 20-year-old rookie Ondrej Pavelec, who stopped 36 shots in his third career start on Friday. Pavelec, called up on Oct. 19 when starter Kari Lehtonen sustained a groin injury, also started Atlanta's last two games, both wins.
"We know him pretty well," Waddell said. "We drafted him only a couple of years ago. He was good in training camp, he played well in exhibitions. We have a lot of confidence in him."
The Thrashers other netminder, Johan Hedberg, is 4-4-0 with a 3.77 goals-against average and has allowed at least four goals in three of his last six starts.
Atlanta has won four of its last five against Carolina, but has dropped three of the last four meetings at Philips Arena.
The Hurricanes are coming off Thursday's disappointing 5-1 loss to Tampa Bay that dropped them to 5-2-1 at home.
Ray Whitney scored the lone goal and has seven goals and six assists during an eight-game points streak. Matt Cullen also extended his assist streak to eight games, tying the Hurricanes club record held by Rod Brind'Amour from Jan. 18-Feb. 1, 2001.
"We got outplayed. We've got to get on the road and get back to our game," defenseman Bret Hedican told the Hurricanes' official Web site.
The Hurricanes, who have scored an NHL-best 59 goals, will try to avoid losing consecutive games in regulation for the first time this season. They lost in a shootout in Pittsburgh on Oct. 19 and in overtime at Philadelphia the following night for their only back-to-back defeats this season.
Carolina has outscored its opponents 19-6 in games following their previous three regulation defeats.
"For some reason we continue to have these lapses where we allow a game to pass without playing our best hockey, but then we can't wait to get back out there and try to redeem ourselves," forward Erik Cole said.