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|5 ноября 2007 года.
Kovalchuk catching stride in Thrashers' new system // USA Today
Atlanta left wing Ilya Kovalchuk, the No. 1 overall pick in 2001, has adapted to the speedier style of play of interim coach Don Waddell. Kovalchuk's 12 goals in 14 games are tied for best in the NHL.
By Kevin Allen, USA TODAY
Atlanta Thrashers general manager Don Waddell believes that Ilya Kovalchuk's celebration of Marian Hossa's goal Saturday may say more about Kovalchuk's development than the 12 goals he has scored this season.
"Stats are one thing, but Kovalchuk is fun to have on the bench right now because he is so into this team," Waddell said.
"He just wants to win. When Hossa scored, Ilya Kovalchuk was the happiest man on the team. He jumped up and yelled for Hossa and hugged him when he came to the bench."
Kovalchuk has probably been the player who has benefited the most from Waddell's decision to fire Bob Hartley and name himself as interim coach. He's playing Kovalchuk 2:30 more than Hartley did, and Kovalchuk has responded with dazzling play, including producing back-to-back hat tricks last week.
"He is skating as well as he has at any point in his career," Waddell said.
"And he's playing with a passion."
One of the NHL's most powerful skaters, Kovalchuk almost seems to have re-discovered the advantage he has when he plays at full throttle. "His skating is providing him with the opportunities to score," Waddell said.
Kovalchuk's 12 goals in 14 games tie him for the league lead, and put him on a 70-goal pace. He's sixth in the NHL in points with 19. "The more ice time he gets, the more excited he gets," Waddell jokes.
With Kovalchuk carrying the offensive load, the Thrashers are now 5-3 since Waddell replaced Hartley after an 0-6 start. Kovalchuk says he isn't sure why the team is performing better, but Waddell's system is a bit different.
"We got a lot of young guys who want to play, the fast guys, the skill guys who are trying to use more speed," he says.
"We try to go in our zone more, and just to try to find the puck when you're in good speed and create some offensive opportunities so the (other) team can take some penalties."
He says players are now preparing themselves better. "And we just started playing for each other," he says.
Hartley and Kovalchuk weren't always on the best of terms, their relationship undermined by the traditional conflict of a coach and star not agreeing on how the star should play. Hartley wanted better defensive play from Kovalchuk.
But Kovalchuk offers nothing but praise for Hartley, noting that he was the reason why the team went from cellar dweller to playoff team last season. "I don't think he was the reason why we were losing," Kovalchuk said. Waddell has empowered Kovalchuk simply by telling him to go out work hard, and use the tools he has to get the job done.
"We move more with the speed and we try to create some more offensive opportunities. That's my kind of my style of hockey, so I really enjoy it."
With eight consecutive divisional games coming up starting tonight with a game against Washington, Waddell has been preaching that this is the opportunity for the Thrashers to climb back into the race. "(Waddell) is always going to talk to you if things didn't go your way or you're struggling a little bit," Kovalchuk said.
"He knows who he needs to yell at or who he needs to just tell like relax and let's play. He always got some right words to tell the guys. I think that's very important."