The Atlanta Thrashers have benefited from a coaching change early in the season, but no one more so than Ilya Kovalchuk.
If he can shake off a rare injury, the league's goal-scoring leader will try to continue his recent torrid stretch and lead the Thrashers to their season-high third straight win when they visit the Florida Panthers on Friday night.
Atlanta (6-9-0), which earned its first Southeast Division title last season, fired longtime coach Bob Hartley after opening this season with six consecutive losses. General manager Don Waddell took over behind the bench on Oct. 17, and has helped the Thrashers go 6-3-0.
Kovalchuk managed just three goals and an assist during Atlanta's season-opening slide. Since Waddell took over, the top overall pick in the 2001 draft has scored 10 goals - including hat tricks in consecutive games last week - and added six assists.
The 10 goals are the most by any player over that span.
Against Washington on Tuesday, Kovalchuk scored his league-leading 13th goal to give the Thrashers a 1-0 lead in the second period before leaving with a tight back. Atlanta needed Todd White's 100th career goal 1:34 into overtime to defeat the Capitals 2-1.
"I hope (my back) loosens up and I hope to be ready for the next game," Kovalchuk said.
Since his 2001-02 rookie season, the durable Kovalchuk has missed only 23 games and Atlanta has gone 7-10-1 with five ties without him.
Last season, Kovalchuk had seven goals and four assists to lead the Thrashers to a 6-1-1 record against Florida. He had three goals and tied a season high with four points on Oct. 23, 2006 in Atlanta's 6-3 road win over the Panthers.
Slava Kozlov set a career high with four assists in that contest. The coaching change also seems to have energized the left wing, who has three goals and four assists during a five-game point streak. He posted just two goals and an assist in his first 10 games.
The Panthers (7-9-0) will be looking for their second three-game home winning streak this season, but return to the BankAtlantic Center after falling 3-1 to Tampa Bay on Wednesday.
Tomas Vokoun allowed two goals in the opening 6:37 and finished with 31 saves, dropping his record to 7-7-0 with a 3.00 goals-against average.
"You can tell me we were ready to play but we weren't," Vokoun told the Panthers' official Web site. "You've got to be ready from the first whistle to the last."
Vokoun's GAA at home is nearly identical at 2.87, but he's gone 5-2-0 there, including wins over division leaders Carolina and Philadelphia. Spending his previous eight seasons with Nashville in the Western Conference, Vokoun has faced Atlanta only five times, going 1-3-1 with a 1.99 GAA and one shutout.
Florida's Olli Jokinen has two straight three-point games at home and leads the team with nine goals and 18 points. He had two goals and four assists last season against Atlanta - all at home.