In his NHL career, Ilya Kovalchuk has proven remarkably durable. After suffering a chest injury that cut short his rookie season as an 18 year old, Kovalchuk has missed a grand total of 12 NHL games over the next 6 NHL seasons. Kovalchuk's good health came to an end Saturday night as he took a shot off his foot versus the Sharks. The team expects him to miss four weeks.
Losing their captain and leading goal scorer is a certainly a blow to the Thrashers' campaign for the playoffs. Whether it is a fatal blow or just a bout of adversity depends on how the team plays in his absence.There is no one in the minors or on the bench who can replace Kovalchuk's rocket shot and blazing speed--it will be up to the team to adjust to meet this challenge?
One possible solution is more scoring from the defenseman. Ilya Kovalchuk plays the left point on the Thrashers power play and eats up nearly all of the PP time for that slot. The Thrashers are blessed to have defensemen who can shoot the puck in Kubina, Bogosian, and Hainsey. In absence of Kovalchuk, I imagine the Thrashers will split the PP ice time between two different power play units. Running two different PP units with two different styles might prove to be very effective. Bogosian and Kubina could help fill some of the goal scoring lost with Kovalchuk's injury.
The Thrashers also have more depth than at any other time in team history. Evidence of that depth is that Marty Reasoner--a solid checking center--was forced down to the 4th line with the additions of Nik Antropov, Evander Kane and Maxim Afinogenov. The loss of Kovalchuk will allow Reasoner to move back up to the 3rd line.
Predicting the offenisve lines is nearly impossible, but in the Sharks game Evander Kane looked very good playing left wing next to Antropov and Afinogenov. Another option for Coach Anderson would be to restore an all Russian-speaking line and slot Kozlov in with Antro and Max. The fact that Rich Peverley can play all three forward positions gives the team some flexibility up front to mix and match.
Another way to cope with Kovalchuk's line is to get the Thrashers 2nd line going. So far the offensive load has been carried by a strong PP and great production from the 1st and 3rd lines with 2 pleasant surprise goals from the 4th line. The 2nd line was been AWOL most of October and they must find a way to get some production.