SUN Hockey Pool

Thrashers still weak sisters in East

TERRY KOSHAN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:37 AM ET

The always-poor Atlanta Thrashers might take a collective look in the mirror before they arrive in Toronto tomorrow night to play the Maple Leafs.

The Thrashers' two road wins are fewest in the Eastern Conference and, despite a coaching change that has former Leaf John Anderson getting his first crack at guiding a club at the National Hockey League level, Atlanta is in familiar territory, mired near the bottom of the standings in the conference.

The Thrashers have lost three in a row after tying a franchise record with five consecutive wins.

"I think we're sort of chasing an identity," Thrashers forward Erik Christensen said.

No kidding. The Thrashers have been chasing an identity since they became privileged members of the NHL for the 1999-2000 season. Other than two years ago, they've been regular playoff watchers. The suggestion has been made that Ilya Kovalchuk should be captain, but he has appeared to be lukewarm to the idea. Kovalchuk is headed for unrestricted free agency in 2010 and, unless he likes to inflict pain on himself, will be looking to flee the Peach State.

Anderson regularly had championship teams when he was coaching the Chicago Wolves, the Thrashers' minor-league affiliate. There's no sign of such success in Atlanta, and Anderson, a Toronto native, isn't silly enough to make suggestions to the contrary.

"We're dealt a hand here a little bit," Anderson said of his thin roster. "We can't just say: 'Okay, this is what I want us to be.' You have to adjust a little bit, and that is what we are doing."

In 15 games in Toronto in their brief time in the NHL, the Thrashers have won five times.

SUNDIN ON ICE

Mats Sundin will take another small step toward a return to the NHL this week when he starts skating in Los Angeles. But there remains no definitive time or place that the former Leafs captain actually will skate in an NHL game. How secretive or indecisive is Sundin?

Said his countryman, Ottawa Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson: "I don't even think Mats knows if he's going to play. Once he makes that decision, I think he'll look at the teams that are going to give him a good chance to win a Stanley Cup. That's what I assume he's going to do."

One club that would love to have Sundin but stands no chance of signing him is the Tampa Bay Lightning. Other teams are making Los Angeles a stop on their itinerary just to put in face-time with the 37-year-old. Senators owner Eugene Melnyk and Montreal Canadiens general manager Bob Gainey have made a point of meeting with Sundin on the west coast.

Here's something to think about: When and if Sundin returns to the NHL, why is it widely assumed he will be the last piece of the puzzle to get a team to the Stanley Cup? He played on some good teams in Toronto, but a Cup final never happened. In 77 playoff games with the Leafs, Sundin had 70 points, and when he missed a large chunk in the 2002 post-season, the Leafs won without him. If Sundin had won a Cup or two or even a scoring title, the constant chasing of him might add up a little more.

HALF A YEAR AWAY

Six months sounds like jail time to Brenden Morrow and he hopes a good recovery gets him out of completing his full sentence.

The Dallas Stars captain is expected to miss six months once he has surgery to fix the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. Morrow was hurt in a game against the Chicago Blackhawks on Thursday.

"I've always thought I've recovered fast," Morrow said. "That's what is going to get me through this."

Morrow didn't see a long recovery on the radar when he got hurt.

"I kind of expected a game or two, and the six months recovery kind of caught me off guard," Morrow said.

"I can walk fine. How can't I play?"

The hockey gods certainly weren't looking down on the Stars, since Sean Avery and Steve Ott remain healthy. The Stars, last in the Western Conference and in turmoil, couldn't afford to lose Morrow, their leader, for the rest of the regular season.

THE WEEK AHEAD

The Vancouver Canucks will provide an update today of the extent of goalie Roberto Luongo's apparent left groin injury ... Let's hope the Leafs' slow dance with Brian Burke picks up the pace and something gets done. Everyone involved could then return to their regularly scheduled lives ... Wayne Gretzky and the Phoenix Coyotes tonight visit the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden, the building where Gretzky played his last NHL game 91/2 years ago ... Also tonight, New York Islanders defenceman Mark Streit plays in Montreal for the first time since bolting the Canadiens in July to sign a five-year, $20.5-million US contract on the Island ... No less than five games are on the docket Friday afternoon, part of the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday weekend.


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