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Thrashers look to keep rolling with Kovalchuk back

by John Kreiser /

OILERS (8-9-2) at THRASHERS (9-6-1)

Last 10 --
Edmonton 2-7-1; Atlanta 5-5-0

Season series -- The teams are meeting for the only time this season. In their only meeting in 2008-09, the Thrashers beat the Oilers 4-3 in overtime at Edmonton on March 12. The Oilers are making only their fifth visit ever to Phillips Arena, winning three of the first four.

Big story --
His right foot may not be completely healthy, but there's nothing wrong with Ilya Kovalchuk's stick. Atlanta's captain has 3 goals and 4 assists in his first two games back after missing six with a broken foot. He had a goal and two assists in Thursday's 5-3 win at New York, then scored twice and set up two other goals in Friday's 7-0 home victory over the Los Angeles Kings.

Kovalchuk, who has 12 goals and 5 assists in the 10 games he's played, is still not 100 percent.

"It's still going to take me time to heal all the way," said Kovalchuk, whose 309 goals are the most by any NHL player since Atlanta drafted him with the No. 1 pick in the 2001 Entry Draft.

Team Scope:

Oilers -- After a good start, the Oilers have hit the skids, going 1-4-1 in their last six games -- mostly because they continue to struggle to put the puck in the net. Edmonton carried the play for much of its last game in Buffalo but still lost 3-1 when it was unable to take advantage of a major penalty against the Sabres that put the Oilers on the power play for most of the last five minutes of regulation.

"That's the way it's been lately -- not quite able to get the goal when we needed it," said forward Patrick O'Sullivan, who had the lone goal against the Sabres.

Thrashers -- Kovalchuk isn't the only Russian-born player on the Thrashers who's been hot. Maxim Afinogenov, who signed as a free agent in September, matched Kovalchuk's production against Los Angeles with 2 goals and 2 assists. He also had a goal against the Rangers.

Afinogenov also had a goal against the Rangers, and Kovalchuk likes how his countryman has settled in after nine seasons in Buffalo, where he often clashed with coach Lindy Ruff.

"Max looks like he got a second life," Kovalchuk said. "In Buffalo, he took a beating by the coach. He's one of the hardest workers. Every day, he's smiling."

Who's hot -- Besides Kovalchuk and Afinogenov, rookie Evander Kane has been producing. He has 2 goals and 5 points in his last two games and is among the rookie leaders in goals (6) and points (11).

Injury report -- Atlanta center Bryan Little didn't play Friday night due to a sore groin and is likely to sit again. … Edmonton forward Fernando Pisani left the team and went home due to complications with ulcerative colitis, an ailment he's had before. He had just returned from a back injury. Center Shawn Horcoff is expected to return after sitting out the last four games with a shoulder injury.

Stat pack --
The Oilers have done a good job shutting down Kovalchuk during their infrequent meetings. He's played six complete games against Edmonton (he left last season's win at Rexall Place with an injury) and has just 1 point (a goal).

Puck drop -- Kovalchuk can be a free agent, and one thing he wants to see before committing to the Thrashers for the long term is that the team is on the upswing. Thus far, that's been the case. Atlanta looks like a team that can make the playoffs and has a bright future.

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