The interview below appears in Sovetsky Sport in Russian, and was translated by Tuvan Hillbilly who is a member of the SB Nation Capitals site Japer's Rink. Our thanks to the original Sovetsky Sport reporter for asking the questions and a big thanks to Tuvan Hillbilly for the translation.
Why has Atlanta had such a successful start?
"Which Atlanta are you talking about—the one in Mytishchi or the one in Georgia?" joked Kozlov as he walked by.
"Now there’s going to be some confusion" smiled Kovalchuk. "If we’re talking about our American Atlanta, well we’ve only played five games. It’s too early to come to any conclusions. But we needed a good start. We don’t usually start the regular season so well."
"The guys came to training camp in really good shape. We trained and practiced as usual. And this is the result of all that work."
Yes, Kovalchuk has made seven goals in five games.
"It doesn’t matter, who makes however many goals. The main thing is that all of Atlanta plays powerful, effective hockey and does what the coach tells them. An added bonus is the addition of Nikolai Antropov and Max Afinogenov. It’s twice as easy to play with good hockey players."
"We have a great mutual understanding with Antropov on the line. Kolya (Nikolai- TH) is a grenadier. He can keep hold of the puck, has a keen eye on the ice, and can shoot. The defensemen which we come up against concentrate on him, and in this way he gives me more open space on the ice."
Alexander Ovechkin has also had a great start to the season, making ten goals already.
"I’m not surprised. Everybody has to take care of their own business. Making goals is our job. We are just good at it, that’s all. The main thing is that Atlanta and Washington have overcome a lot. On Thursday we’ve got a big home game. We’re battling for first place in the division."
It’s interesting to note that Ovechkin has had 61 shots on goal so far this season and you’ve only had 16. Why so few?
"Yeah really I’m shooting like I usually do, when I get good scoring chances. It’s just that I’m not going to fling everything in the direction of the net. Often a teammate is in a better position and it makes more sense to pass it to him."
Do you think you’ll be in the running for the Maurice Richard trophy?
"I never set goals like that for myself. If I play well, if the team moves upward, the points and prizes will come to me on their own."
"I DON’T THINK ABOUT MONEY"
Can you explain your high productivity by the fact that your contract with Atlanta is ending? You need good statistics to make the big bucks.
"I don’t have strategy like that. Each year I prepare for the season in the exact same way. I try to play my best hockey. I didn’t change anything in my training during the offseason this year."
A hypothetical question: what appeals to you more: to continue your career with the Thrashers or with a strong KHL club?
"I love everything in Atlanta. The team has a bright future, judging by the way we are playing. My agent (Jay Grossman) is constantly in contact with GM Don Waddell. I’m focused solely on playing hockey. I don’t want to think about contracts or money. I have an active contract until the end of this season, so I’m not worried for the time being."
Are you keeping an eye on the KHL?
"I look at the scores on the internet and I keep up with my friends. The Ak Bars, where Lekha (Alexei- TH) Morozov is playing, didn’t look their greatest starting the season. But that’s no big problem. Last year, when the Bars won the Gagarin Cup, they didn’t win first place in the regular season. The main thing is to make it into the play-offs. Then Kazan will know what to do."
What do you have to say about the ESPN report that you’ve been offered a contract by SKA St. Petersburg? Is there a chance you might return to Russia?
"You never say never, but you have to consider the team you play for. I never received any offers from SKA. So all of these rumors were false."
"THE PLAYERS UNION IS VERY WEAK"
The Olympics are just four months away. Does this raise your motivation?
"It’s not just a matter of mindset. You have to be in top physical condition for this tournament. The Olympics are the most important event for any hockey player. Especially since we are putting together a very strong team."
It’s too bad Andrei Markov was injured..
"It’s a big loss whenever any player gets injured. And then it happens to such a classy defenseman. I hope Andrey has the strength and motivation to make it to Vancouver."
Do you support Ovechkin and Malkin, who said that they would go to the Olympics in 2014 in Sochi, even if the NHL forbids it?
"The best hockey players must go to the Olympics. One hundred percent! Even if the NHL doesn’t officially approve it, every player will decide for himself what he must then do."
Could the NHL players exert pressure on league management through the player’s union?
"Theoretically, yes. But in reality the NHL player’s union is currently in such a state that it couldn’t have any influence on anything. First we need to educate ourselves on how the system works, and then we will be able to apply some pressure."
"I really don’t understand what’s going on in the union. Somebody was dismissed, somebody was caught in a scandal, somebody is suing somebody…. The former chairman, Paul Kelley, was dismissed. A new boss hasn’t been appointed yet. And in two years the collective bargaining agreement with the NHL ends. The players don’t even have a plan as to how we will fight for our rights."
Are you watching any soccer?
"Yeah, I saw the game against Germany. I was really worried. I know that now our guys will play Slovenia. It was a good choice. Once again, "lucky" Hiddink was blessed. On the other hand, he has the heaviest load. Team Russia is worthy of a trip to the world championships in South Africa. I personally am proud of our soccer players