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октября 2003 года.
Kept on ice, Kovalchuk stays red-hot - Atlanta Journal-Constitution
By JOHN MANASSO
Defensive-minded coaching and goal-tenders with oversized equipment have conspired to almost make the 50-goal scorer extinct in the NHL. Only five players have done it in the past five seasons; the New York Rangers' Pavel Bure did it twice.
But the Thrashers' Ilya Kovalchuk might become the latest incarnation of that increasingly rare bird.
Kovalchuk has scored seven goals in his past three games, giving him a league-best nine for the season in seven games, powering the Thrashers to a 4-0-2-1 start and the most points (11) in the NHL. He leads or is tied for the NHL's best in five offensive categories: points (12), power-play goals (five), shots (35) and shooting percentage (25.7) for players with at least 15.
"I can't imagine, here he is 20 years old, he's got so much talent and he's improved his game every game [this season]," teammate Slava Kozlov said. "He has stepped up and has played another level right now."
Every sport has its fabled records. In hockey, Wayne Gretzky's 92 goals in an 80-game season in 1981-82 and Maurice Richard's 50 goals in 50 games in 1944-45 stand out.
To say Kovalchuk will come close to either of those marks is probably unrealistic, but at his current rate he would break both marks.
For better perspective, his name already ranks with some Hall of Famers in another category. Kovalchuk is sixth all-time for goals scored before his 20th birthday, behind the likes of Gretzky and Steve Yzerman.
Coach Bob Hartley speaks a lot about Kovalchuk's maturity. Also, Kovalchuk's offseason work, which was more running than skating, is paying off.
While most players keep their shifts to 45 seconds, Hartley wants Kovalchuk to play the entire two-minute power play and marvels at his stamina. Kovalchuk averages better than 24 minutes per game, third among NHL forwards.
"When the coach gives you that much ice time, it just feels very comfortable," Kovalchuk said. "You start playing much better, and you know he believes in you."
Last season, Kovalchuk's 38 goals were seventh in the league, with only nine coming on the power play. By the 54th game, he had 30 (a pace for 46), then scored two over the next 15 games. That drought may have come from Hartley's insistence Kovalchuk improve his defense.
But with Hartley having gotten through to his pupil, Kovalchuk has gained confidence from Hartley's decision to use him in more situations.
"The biggest thing with Ilya -- everyone knew he'd score goals -- the most amazing is his play in all three zones," Hartley said. ''I never thought we'd be so far ahead with his responsibilities."
Lately, Hartley also has employed a variety of linemates with Kovalchuk.
"I'll put the Pope with Kovy if I have to," Hartley said.