Without Kovalchuk, defensemen picking up scoring for Thrashers

The Thrashers are getting goals in Ilya Kovalchuk’s absence – most of them from their defensemen.

The team’s last seven goals have come from blueliners. Kovalchuk, the franchise leader in goals, assists and points, has missed the last two weeks with a broken bone in his foot. In the six full games without their captain, the Thrashers are 3-3. During that span, the team has 12 goals from defensemen and seven from forwards -- which means 63.2 percent of the offense has come from the defense.

After forward Bryan Little scored in the second period against Columbus on Thursday, the Thrashers have gotten goals from: Tobias Enstrom and Pavel Kubina against the Blue Jackets; Zach Bogosian, Kubina and Christoph Schubert against the New York Islanders; Enstrom and Ron Hainsey against St. Louis.

“I am aware of it,” Thrashers coach John Anderson said following Sunday’s shootout win over St. Louis. “Good thing the forwards scored in the shootout.”

The Thrashers lead the NHL by a large margin in total goals by defensemen. Of their 47 goals this season, 16 have come from the defense – 34 percent of the scoring. The New York Rangers are second in total goals from their defensemen with 13. Only Nashville, with 11 of their 30 goals (36.7 percent) from the blue line, has a higher percentage.

The Thrashers (7-6-1, 15 points) are fourth in the NHL in goals-per-game average at 3.36.

Bogosian has six goals this season, third on the team and tied for first in the NHL for defensemen. He has as many or more goals than the combined total of all defensemen on 13 NHL teams.

Enstrom has two goals and two assists in the Thrashers’ past three games. It took some coaxing from Anderson to get him to put the puck on the net.

“I don’t think Toby is the kind of player that thinks, ‘Shoot first,'” Anderson said last week. “I’ve been talking to him about it. He’s got a pretty good shot. … Sometimes it’s a confidence thing. You learn from that experience. He’s primarily a feeder and a disher. That’s just the way he is. Sometimes it’s very difficult to change the stripes on that zebra.

“He has to shoot sometimes in order to create space for other guys he’s going to pass it to. If he’s not a threat to shoot, they don’t worry about him shooting. Obviously now, he’s had a couple shots. I was [ticked] off at him five or six games ago. I said, ‘Next time you cross the line, make sure [the puck] gets on net. I don’t care how hard it is.’ We scored a goal right off. It wasn’t my genius. In order to make the pass from here to here to here, if he doesn’t shoot once in a while, they won’t respect him, so they will just back off.”

All seven defensemen of the roster have scored this season: Bogosian (6), Kubina (3), Enstrom and Hainsey (2) and Mark Popovic, Anssi Salmela and Schubert (1).

When told that the past seven goals have been scored by defensemen, Enstrom said, “That’s good. We just have to get our forwards scoring, and everything will be perfect.”


*Manny Legace, the veteran goaltender who was in Thrashers training camp on a pro tryout, signed a one-year, two-way contract with Carolina on Monday. Legace was playing with the Thrashers’ AHL affiliate in Chicago on a pro tryout. He was 2-2-1 with a 3.21 goals-against average and a .898 save percentage in six games with the Wolves. Legace’s deal with Carolina calls for him to make $500,000 on the NHL level and $105,000 on the AHL level. He was scheduled to practice with the Hurricanes on Monday.

*The Thrashers travel to play the New York Rangers on Thursday and then return for a five-game homestand against Los Angeles, Edmonton, Boston, Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay.

How Thrashers compare

The Thrashers lead all NHL teams in goals from defensemen with 16.

Here are the top five teams in percentage of goal scoring from defensemen.

1. Nashville, 36.7 percent (11 of 30)

2. Atlanta, 34 percent (16 of 47)

3. Phoenix, 25.6 percent (11 of 43)

4. Chicago, 23.8 percent (10 of 42)

5. N.Y. Islanders, 23.3 percent (10 of 43)

* Through Sunday

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