ATLANTA – The Atlanta Thrashers needed 29 games to earn their 10th victory at home.
What took so long? “I really think the guys are listening to what we ask because that will at least keep us in hockey games,” first-year coach John Anderson said. “In each of the last four or five (games overall), we’ve had to change our style a little, and they’ve done a great job in doing that.”
Ilya Kovalchuk scored his 10th goal in eight games, and the Thrashers had two short-handed goals as they broke a four-game home losing streak with a 4-3 victory over the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday night.
The Thrashers won for just the fifth time in 21 games at Philips Arena. Overall, Atlanta has four victories and eight points in its last seven matches.
Kovalchuk’s 31st goal was a deflection 4:07 into the game. The Thrashers’ captain has 28 points, including 20 goals, in the last 24 games.
Milan Hejduk had his 21st and 22nd goals for Colorado, which has lost two straight and six of nine.
Chris Stewart ended the scoring with his ninth goal with 1:31 remaining. The Avalanche had a man-advantage after coach Tony Granato briefly pulled goaltender Peter Budaj with 2:30 remaining.
“I think we thought it was going to be a little bit easier than it turned out to be, and we made some mistakes in our own end,” Granato said. “We got sloppy coming back to our end, and with the skill they have offensively, they can score goals.”
Despite a goal by Hejduk that made it 3-1 late in the first period, Colorado showed why it has the NHL’s worst power-play unit on the road. The Avs gave up their first short-handed goals to Tobias Enstrom and Eric Peverley of the league’s most porous home penalty-killing unit.
Atlanta began the game having killed a league-low 70.4 per cent of 115 penalties at home. The Avalanche’s power play is 1-for-15 in its last four games.
“That is unacceptable,” Hejduk said. “It’s one thing to be on the power play and not score goals, but you shouldn’t give up goals. It happened tonight, and that’s unfortunate.”
Budaj, starting for the first time since losing 4-2 to Montreal on Feb. 13, dropped his fourth straight decision overall and is 0-8-1 in his last nine starts on the road. He stopped 22 shots as his record dropped to 16-24-1.
Enstrom opened the scoring with a backhand shot 2:57 into the game after Eric Perrin started the short-handed breakaway and assisted from the right circle.
At the 15:16 mark of the second, Enstrom dove against the left boards to poke the puck up the ice for Peverley, whose short-handed goal made it 4-2.
“I think the team is playing better short-handed,” Enstrom said. “We had a good road trip with two good wins.
“We wanted to show our fans we could play well at home.”
Kari Lehtonen made 33 saves for Atlanta.
“Tonight the penalty kill was great,” he said. “It was great to get that big lead in the first period.
“There was no doubt any time in the game we wouldn’t be able to take the two points home.”
Notes: Centre Paul Stastny returned to the Avalanche lineup after missing the last 26 games with a broken arm. He assisted on Hejduk’s first goal. “Conditioning wise, I felt fine,” Stastny said. “The speed of the game and the strength of the players took getting used to a little bit, but as the game wore on, I got a little more accustomed to it.” … Hejduk also had two-goal games in a 7-4 loss to Toronto on Jan. 29 and in a 5-4 loss at Dallas on Oct. 18. … Atlanta’s only other game with two short-handed goals this season came in an 8-4 victory Feb. 15 at Anaheim.