In Kovalchuk's absence, puck stops with goaltending

Life without Ilya Kovalchuk begins now.

The Thrashers host Washington Thursday, their first game without their star captain Kovalchuk, who is expected to miss four weeks with a broken bone in his right foot.

The obvious first question is who will pick up the scoring slack. Kovalchuk has accounted for nine of the team’s 28 goals (36 percent) as well as three of the team’s nine power-play goals (33 percent).

“You’ve got to score one [goal] to win a game,” Thrashers coach John Anderson said. “We’ve got to pick it up collectively. Hopefully Kozy [Slava Kozlov], Lits [Bryan Little] can score more for sure. Whitey [Todd White] can score more. ... That should help.”

Nik Antropov, Kozlov and White have yet to score in eight games this season. White has two goals.

However, how the Thrashers fare without Kovalchuk may well depend on the goaltenders.

The Thrashers (4-3-1) are sixth in the NHL in goals per game with an average of 3.5. They are 14th in goals-against average at 2.88. Take away Kovalchuk’s more than a third of the offense and the Thrashers would be averaging 2.4 goals a game, less than they currently allow.

“I think goaltending is always most important,” goalie Johan Hedberg said. “You won’t win without good goaltending, game in and game out. There [needs to be] more emphasis on a team effort. Kovy can turn the game around himself but when he’s not in here, we have to realize we’re not going to be able to come back from three goals down. We can’t put ourselves in those situations. We have to focus on the total solid team game.”

Kovalchuk has taken 27 shots this season, a 33.3 percent success rate. He is tied for the team lead in shooting percentage (Eric Boulton has one goal on three shots). Rich Peverley is second with a 27.8 shooting percentage.

“Everybody knows what Kovy means to the team,” Hedberg said. “Sometimes with Kovy, he might score three goals on his own. We have to realize now we’ll have to win the game 2-1 or 1-0. ... We must think defense first and go from there.”

Fellow goaltender Ondrej Pavelec agreed. It all starts -- well, stops -- with the goalie.

“You have to stop the puck,” Pavelec said. “I’m just focused on my game. It’s not going to be any more pressure on me. It’s going to be another game. I believe some other guys are going to step up and score the goals for Kovy.”

Defenseman Zach Bogosian will take Kovalchuk’s spot at the point on the first power-play unit, where he could help pick up the scoring slack. His shots-on-goal totals will likely increase playing the special teams position.

In Washington, the Thrashers get a rematch from last Thursday. The Capitals won 5-4, scoring three goals in an 88 second span of the second period. It resulted in Pavelec being pulled. Anderson said Wednesday that Pavelec would likely start again versus the Capitals

Notes: Antropov missed his third straight practice Wednesday with a groin injury. Anderson said it was precautionary and expects Antropov to be play against Washington. ... Rookie Evander Kane was told by the team he can move out of a hotel and find more permanent accommodations, further proof he’s here to stay. “Evander has stepped in as an 18-year old and made a significant contribution to our club,” Thrashers general manager Don Waddell said. “He’s earned the opportunity to stay in Atlanta for the foreseeable future and we look forward to his continued maturation as he grows along with the young core of players on our team.” Anssi Salmela, Mark Popovic and Pavelec were also given the go-ahead to check out. ... Jason Krog skated with the fourth line, alongside Chris Thorburn and Boulton, Wednesday in his second practice since being called up from the AHL. “It’s a great feeling and I’m excited," Krog said. "Whatever role they want me to play, I will, and hopefully I can help.”

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