When the Atlanta Thrashers learned last week that captain Ilya Kovalchuk would miss several weeks with an injury, general manager Don Waddell called it an opportunity for other players to step up.
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That’s exactly what the Thrashers have done.
Atlanta looks to win its third straight without its leading scorer Thursday night, when it hosts a Columbus Blue Jackets club that’s dropped six of eight.
Kovalchuk, who leads the Thrashers (6-4-1) with nine goals, suffered a broken bone in his right foot in a 4-3 loss to San Jose on Oct. 24.
The team announced two days later that he would be sidelined three to five weeks.
“The time that he’ll be lost, we’ll miss him, but our team will continue on and we’ll win hockey games,” Waddell said.
Atlanta lost its first game without Kovalchuk – 4-3 to Washington last Thursday – but returns home following two straight wins in Canada.
After scoring a goal and adding an assist in Saturday’s 3-1 win at Ottawa, center Rich Peverley had a goal and two assists in Tuesday’s 5-4 victory over Montreal.
“(Kovalchuk is) one of the most dynamic players in the league,” said Peverley, who has a team-leading 16 points. “We have a lot of depth on our team this year. We’ve got some key pieces up front, on the back end, and in goal, too, so that just shows you the overall depth we have on our team right now.”
Colby Armstrong scored the game-winner Tuesday, while Pavel Kubina, Bryan Little and Mark Popovic all found the back of the net for the first time this season.
With Wednesday’s news that last year’s starting goaltender Kari Lehtonen will be out another six to eight weeks following a second back surgery Friday, Ondrej Pavelec will continue to start for the Thrashers. He is 5-3-1 with a 2.75 goals-against average.
Pavelec made 29 saves in a 2-0 loss to visiting Columbus last Nov. 22, the last meeting between these teams. Blue Jackets captain Rick Nash had a goal and an assist in that game.
Nash scored his team-leading 10th goal of the season Wednesday on the power play, but he and teammates Nikita Filatov and Anton Stralman were stopped in the shootout of a 3-2 loss to San Jose.
Nash has six goals and four assists in his last six games.
The Blue Jackets (7-5-2) have dropped six of eight since opening the season 5-1-0, but coach Ken Hitchcock remains optimistic after his team has played three consecutive one-goal games versus division leaders Pittsburgh, Washington and San Jose.
“The confidence is that we can play with all the good teams,” Hitchcock said. “Now it’s whether we can motivate ourselves every night. That’s what the good teams do.”
Blue Jackets goaltender Steve Mason, the reigning Calder Trophy winner, is 6-4-2 with a 3.38 GAA. He stopped 15 shots and posted his first career shutout in last season’s win against Atlanta.
The Thrashers have lost three straight at home since a season-opening 6-3 win over Tampa Bay.