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League's top scorer draws plenty of attention

Tuesday, 01.15.2008 / 10:44 PM ET / News
By Derek Gluth  - DetroitRedWings.com Intern
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League\'s top scorer draws plenty of attention
DETROIT -- When the league's leading goal scorer comes to town, he's bound to get some extra attention. Atlanta sniper Ilya Kovalchuk came into Tuesday's game with 62 points and 37 goals. He was sure to get noticed by the Red Wings.

Early in the game Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall kept a close eye on Kovalchuk drawing contact with him every time the Thrashers' left wing entered the offensive zone. The downside to this approach occurred in the middle of the first period when Kronwall went for the hit, Kovalchuk ducked it and he led a two-on-one break into the Wings' zone. While it didn't lead to a goal for Atlanta, it showed just how dynamic he can be.

Wings coach Mike Babcock thought dynamic was a good word to describe the Thrashers' main threat.

"I think he's a great example for young kids to watch," Babcock said, "how far his hands are out in front of his body when he handles is really dynamic. I always love the guys that every time they've got it they want to shoot it. To me that's a great thing."

Kovalchuk's presence is felt even when he isn't shooting, the constant attention from Kronwall led to a high-sticking penalty late in the first period, a power play on which Kovalchuck showed more dazzle.  He cut through a crowd of Red Wings to get his first shot on net, and it wouldn't be the last time he made his presence felt. He finished with five of the Thrashers' 25 shots.

In the second period, Wings defenseman Brian Rafalski tried to take Kovalchuk wide, and fell backwards. Kovalchuk's rush to the goal set up center Eric Perrin, who gave the Thrashers a 4-0 lead. It was Kovalchuck's lone assist.

"You've got to give him as little time as possible because he can shoot from every angle and he knows where he's shooting too," Wings defenseman Andreas Lilja siad. "You try to watch his chest. You can't watch his head, because it just goes back and forth and you definitely cannot watch the puck because he's got a lot of sweet moves. You've got to watch him in the chest and try to aim for that."

And for a player not credited much for his defense, Kovalchuk made a good play in front of the net to stop a Wings forward Tomas Holmstrom, and then took the puck all the way down the ice to fire on goalie Dominik Hasek.

"He's explosive, his first couple steps are fast and he's got a good shot so you can't give him too much room or he's going to use that," Wings defenseman Brett Lebda said. "Just eliminating his time and space is the key. You don't know what he's going to do, so you have to be prepared for everything."

Later in the third, he showed off that speed on a breakaway, and had a rare miss on those opportunities clacking the puck off the post. Kovalchuk, never afraid to shoot the puck, is sixth in the league with 178 shots; 30 behind Red Wings forward Henrik Zetterberg who is second with 208.

Even late in the game that had been well decided, a missed shot frustrated the Thrashers' superstar.

"He's been our horse all year," Atlanta coach Don Waddell said. "He loves to score goals, we know that, but he's got a bigger passion to win hockey games. I thought tonight he gave us a great effort. He had a couple of chances to score, he didn't score but he gave us an effort in all areas of the game."

With all the attention paid to Kovalchuk, it was Hossa's night for the natural hat trick. With that one assist, however, Kovalchuk managed to put himself in a three-way tie for first place in scoring with 63 points along with Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby and Tampa Bay's Vincent Lecavalier.

Kovalchuk's passion to win not only affects his numbers, but now with a record of 23-22-2, Tuesday's win against the league's best team propelled Atlanta into first place tie with Carolina in the Southeast Division.

"We've got a lot of guys who can handle the puck, and it's great," Hossa said. "We have a lot of ups and down and we just have to focus on each game."

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STANDINGS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 p - WSH 82 56 18 8 252 193 120
2 x - PIT 82 48 26 8 245 203 104
3 y - FLA 82 47 26 9 239 203 103
4 x - NYR 82 46 27 9 236 217 101
5 x - NYI 82 45 27 10 232 216 100
6 x - TBL 82 46 31 5 227 201 97
7 x - PHI 82 41 27 14 214 218 96
8 x - DET 82 41 30 11 211 224 93
9 BOS 82 42 31 9 240 230 93
10 CAR 82 35 31 16 198 226 86
11 OTT 82 38 35 9 236 247 85
12 NJD 82 38 36 8 184 208 84
13 MTL 82 38 38 6 221 236 82
14 BUF 82 35 36 11 201 222 81
15 CBJ 82 34 40 8 219 252 76
16 TOR 82 29 42 11 198 246 69

STATS

2015-2016 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
H. Zetterberg 82 13 37 -15 50
P. Datsyuk 66 16 33 7 49
D. Larkin 80 23 22 11 45
T. Tatar 81 21 24 4 45
G. Nyquist 82 17 26 -2 43
J. Abdelkader 82 19 23 -16 42
M. Green 74 7 28 -6 35
B. Richards 68 10 18 4 28
D. Helm 77 13 13 -2 26
N. Kronwall 64 3 23 -21 26
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
P. Mrazek 27 16 6 .921 2.33
J. Howard 14 14 5 .906 2.80