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Montr?al Canadiens vs. Atlanta Thrashers

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GAME: Montreal Canadiens (3-1-0) at Atlanta Thrashers (2-1-0).

TIME: Wednesday, 7 p.m. EDT.

The Atlanta Thrashers will have high-scoring forward Ilya Kovalchuk in the lineup for the first time this season when they host the Montreal Canadiens.

Atlanta re-signed Kovalchuk, the franchise's all-time leading scorer, to a five-year, $32 million contract Saturday. The 22-year-old Russian, who practiced with the Thrashers on Tuesday, got his work visa from the Immigration and Naturalization Service, clearing him to play against the Canadiens.

"We're very excited, you know, and Ilya is the final piece we had to get done," Thrashers general manager Don Waddell said. "I've said all along, we're going to score some goals. Watching some of what's happened with the guys we've brought in here and not knowing exactly how they would do, I think we're going to win a lot of hockey games this season."

Kovalchuk will be looking to pick up where he left off in 2003-04, when he tied Jarome Iginla and Rick Nash for the league lead in goals with 41.

Kovalchuk said he is looking forward to exploiting the new NHL rules, designed to create more scoring chances.

"I'm just going to play my game, you know?" said Kovalchuk, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2001 draft. "Because the rules have changed right now, I think there's been more room for offensive guys and a lot of shots, a lot of opportunities."

The Thrashers already appear well-adjusted to the rules changes, scoring 15 goals in their first three games.

Peter Bondra scored twice and Marc Savard added four assists as the Thrashers pounded Washington 8-1 on Saturday. Seven different players scored for Atlanta, which had a franchise-record five goals in the third period. The Thrashers have eight power-play goals in their last two games.

"Putting goals in the net and having exciting players on your team, it's certainly nice to only have to face them in practice now," goalie Mike Dunham said after making 19 saves on Saturday. "You don't see it too often, but the last two nights our offense has been clicking."

Montreal will be looking to bounce back from its first loss of the season, 4-2 to Ottawa on Tuesday.

Saku Koivu and Steve Begin scored for Montreal.

STANDINGS: Canadiens - 6 points, 2nd place (tied), 2 PB, Northeast Division. Thrashers - 4 points, 2nd place (tied), 2 PB, Southeast Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Canadiens - Michael Ryder, 3 goals; Alexei Kovalev, 5 assists and 5 points; Radek Bonk and Pierre Dagenais, 8 PIM. Thrashers - Bondra, 3 goals; Savard, 6 assists and 8 points; Jaroslav Modry and Serge Aubin, 8 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS (through Oct. 10): Canadiens - Power play: 20.0 percent (4 for 20), 13th (tied) in NHL. Penalty killing: 89.4 percent (17 for 19), 7th (tied). Thrashers - Power play: 27.5 percent (8 for 29), 2nd (tied). Penalty killing: 83.3 percent (20 for 24), 15th.

GOALTENDERS: Canadiens - Jose Theodore (3-1-0, 0 SO, 3.00 GAA); Yann Danis (no record). Thrashers - Dunham (2-1-0, 0, 2.25); Michael Garnett (no record).

2003-04 SEASON SERIES: Canadiens, 3-1-0.

LAST MEETING: Feb. 17, 2004; Thrashers, 4-1. At Montreal, Kovalchuk had a goal and an assist and Pasi Nurminen made 29 saves for Atlanta.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Canadiens - 3-0-0 on the road; Thrashers - 1-0-0 at home.


Associated Press
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