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марта 2003 года.
Hartley, Kovalchuk weather ups and downs - The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
By GUY CURTRIGHT
It was less than 48 hours after their first real blowup, but Ilya Kovalchuk and Bob Hartley were obviously having a good time together.
"Kovy and I are like father and son," joked the Thrashers coach, trying to get as big a curve as he could on the blade of his stick for a pickup game.
Kovalchuk, working on his stick next to Hartley last week in New Jersey, broke into a big grin.
"See, father and son," Hartley repeated. "It's Kovy and me."
Just like in a real family, there are plenty of ups and downs in the relationships on a hockey team.
Especially when the coach stresses making everyone accountable defensively, and a 19-year-old future superstar has been told his whole life that the way to win hockey games is to just outscore everyone else.
"I'd rather try to slow down a thoroughbred than try to kick a donkey to get going," Hartley has said several times, marveling at Kovalchuk's talents.
But having seen one too many defensive lapses, the coach sat Kovalchuk for much of the third period in a 6-4 loss to Minnesota on March 9. Then the two had a meeting the next day.
Kovalchuk obviously got the message and has responded to it -- at least for now. He has two goals, two assists and a plus/minus rating of plus-3 in the four games since.
Kovalchuk has a team-record 34 goals and, with 11 games left, has a shot at a 40-goal season. But he is keeping his eye on another statistical column, too.
"I need to get below minus-20 for sure," said Kovalchuk, looking at his minus-26 rating. "I know I can. I try to play my best."
Plus/minus measures the number of times your team scores at even strength while you are on the ice versus the number of goals allowed. Obviously, defense hasn't been Kovalchuk's forte.
When then-coach Curt Fraser benched Kovalchuk for a game at Toronto on Oct. 31, general manager Don Waddell said, "Kovy is on a pace to score 40 goals and be minus-100."
The trick is to allow Kovalchuk to show off his eye-catching offensive skills while at least have him pay some attention when the other team has the puck.
"It might take a couple of years," Hartley said. "We have to give him time. But one thing is certain. I don't have to teach him to score goals. He knows that, and it is a great gift.
"Offer me a 19-year-old who can score 30 goals, and I'll take as many as I can. Then it's my job to teach them to play defense. I'll never try to take anything away from their offensive creativity."
While Dany Heatley, three years older, has flourished under Hartley, Kovalchuk has had some bumpy moments. But he insists that his relationship with Hartley is "very good."
"We had a meeting after the Minnesota game," Kovalchuk said. "We talked a little bit and understand each other. He's a good teacher, and I'm just 19. He's tough, but I need that. I want to get better. We need to be in the playoffs next year."
Kovalchuk has goals in each of the last two games and four in the last nine after a rare eight-game drought.
"Players like Ilya need to score to feel good about themselves and feel that they have contributed," Hartley said. "He's amazing with the puck. He has the vision, the shot. There are not many 19-year-olds who have stepped up in the NHL and scored goals like him. He's basically reinventing the way to score.
"We just have to be sure to keep him accountable on both sides of the
puck. We don't want to take away his offensive skills, because they are
going to make us win lots of games. But if we can get 10 or 20 percent
more accountability on the defensive side, I think he's going to score
even more goals."