UNIONDALE, N.Y. – Atlanta Coach John Anderson thinks it necessary to look beyond the statistics to fully appreciate Ilya Kovalchuk.
Kovalchuk assisted on Bryan Little’s second goal of the game in the third period for his 500th career point in 500 NHL games, and the Thrashers kept the New York Islanders winless in 10 games with a 4-2 victory Tuesday night.
“He’s a great player, and he tries to do a lot more,” Anderson said. “Look at how good he was defensively tonight. He blocked a shot, and made some solid defensive plays.”
Little backhanded a rebound of Kovalchuk’s shot past Joey MacDonald at 7:42 of the third period for a power-play goal, giving Atlanta its third straight win against New York.
“It’s always good when you win,” Kovalchuk said. “It was a good moment. This year, I don’t find the back of the net as much, but we have guys in front of the net to put the puck in.”
Colby Armstrong added an empty-netter with 39.1 seconds left. It was his fifth goal in his last five games. Mathieu Schneider also scored for the Thrashers, who got 23 saves from Johan Hedberg. Hedberg evened his record at 6-6-2.
“Last night was not a good game,” Armstrong said of being thumped 6-2 at home by Toronto. “Things broke a little better for us tonight.”
Andy Hilbert and Sean Bergenheim had the Islanders’ goals. New York has not won in December (0-9-1). Joey MacDonald stopped 24 shots for New York.
“We have to take the positives out of tonight,” Hilbert said. “When everything’s working, we’re a good team.”
The Islanders’ last 10-game losing skid was Dec. 22, 1997-Jan. 10, 1998.
The Thrashers moved ahead 1-0 when one-time Islanders defenceman Schneider ripped a slap shot from the right point that beat MacDonald to the blocker side at 8:54.
Atlanta increased its lead to 2-0 in the second period. Little buried his 13th goal this season on a second rebound at 6:38.
“I missed on my first rebound attempt,” Little said. “Fortunately, I got it on the second try.”
The Islanders cut the deficit in half at 16:48 when Hilbert took a cross-ice feed and beat Hedberg to the short side.
“Richard Park took the puck wide and threw it at the net,” Hilbert said. “There was some crashing of the net, and I got the rebound.”
New York tied it early in the third period with a short-handed goal. On a rush, Bergenheim wound up with the puck in the lower left circle, spun around, and fired a shot that beat Hedberg to the short side 23 seconds in.
Islanders captain Bill Guerin said as long as the Islanders stay positive and work hard, things will get better.
“Our last two losses were tight games,” Guerin said of losses to Atlanta and Nashville. “We have to stay loose and stay ready to work. Our biggest asset is our work ethic. We don’t come in and mope around. We keep it loose, and we keep focused.”
Notes: This is the only road game for Atlanta in a stretch where they play five of six at home. New York recalled forward Jeff Tambellini from Bridgeport after sending him down for a two-week conditioning stint. Tambellini had two assists and was a minus-9 in 23 games this season.