Room for improvement

Jason Allison holds off a teammate during the Leafs' practice yesterday as the team prepares for...

Jason Allison holds off a teammate during the Leafs' practice yesterday as the team prepares for its game in Atlanta tonight. Allison says his game is not yet up to speed. (Toronto Sun/Ernest Doroszuk)

TERRY KOSHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 1:43 PM ET

For a guy who had not played an NHL game since January, 2003, one might think Jason Allison would cut himself some slack.

But with three assists and a minus-2 rating to show for the Maple Leafs' first four games of the season, Allison is not looking into the mirror with a smile on his face.

"I am not totally happy with the way I have played," Allison said yesterday after practice at Lakeshore Lions Arena.

"I have some good things here and there, but I just have not been as consistent as I would have liked so far."

The Leafs, who have one win in four games, open a two-game trip tonight in Atlanta against Ilya Kovalchuk and the revamped Thrashers and are in Montreal for their second of eight dates this season with the Canadiens.

While Allison, who was sidelined with whiplash and concussion problems for 21/2 years, seeks to fill some of the offensive hole left by the eye injury to captain Mats Sundin, the Leafs enter tonight with patched-up confidence after beating the Philadelphia Flyers Tuesday night.

"Getting one win was important, because in spite of the way we lost those games in the shootout (both to the Ottawa Senators), the reporting or the conception of how we are as a team basically had us as horsebleep," coach Pat Quinn said. "That gets a life of its own, even if it is not accurate."

Ed Belfour is scheduled to be back in net after watching backup Mikael Tellqvist ring up the Flyers with a 31-save performance.

A zero in the win column beside his name is gnawing at the 40-year-old Belfour, and he can't be too thrilled with a 3.81 goals-against average and .857 save percentage.

Belfour was asked whether he thought the equipment changes -- smaller catching gloves and narrower pads -- are fair for goaltenders.

"Well, I think they are doing what they wanted to accomplish,"Belfour said.

"There is more goal-scoring. For the big picture, they got what they wanted, but for the goalies, it is tough luck."

Not only will the Leafs have to contend tonight with Kovalchuk, who was blanked in his season debut against the Canadiens on Wednesday night, they also will get a first look at new Thrashers Marian Hossa, Bobby Holik and Peter Bondra.

"They went from a team that basically had Kovalchuk and (Dany) Heatley up front scoring a lot of goals and now they have a lot of depth," Jeff O'Neill said.

"It is going to be a challenge for us and we are looking forward to it."

Allison has been centring a line with Darcy Tucker and O'Neill, a trio which has potential to do damage.

Tucker referred to Allison as the line's "dictator," a reference to Allison's ability to control the play and distribute the puck.

Allison refused to blame his long layoff for what he sees as a slow start.

"In no way am I going to use that as an excuse," Allison said.

"I know I can play better than I have."


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