ATLANTA -- Good work and good fortune are a hard combination to overcome.
The Maple Leafs did a lot of good work on their way to a 4-0 win last night. They absorbed some solid hits, showed more discipline than the Atlanta Thrashers -- although that wasn't really a feat worthy of great praise -- and they put the Thrashers in an early hole.
On the good fortune side, they faced a team that took far too many penalties, squandered some glorious chances (someone should explain to Slava Kozlov that when you're all alone two feet from the crease, the idea is to put the puck in the net, not over it) and couldn't get a normally reliable power play working.
In fact, the bumbling power play was the reason the Leafs were able to build a 2-0 first-period lead. They had opened the scoring on their own power play when Darcy Tucker beat Michael Garnett only seven seconds after Greg DeVries had settled himself into the penalty box.
Then, on a power play of their own, the Thrashers were fumbling around at the blue line when the Leafs pounced on the puck.
"They kind of made a bad play," Leafs forward Nik Antropov said.
"There were three guys from Atlanta at the blue line and they all wanted the puck. It was bouncing around and when I came, they tried to move it. I intercepted the pass and he (Alex Ponikarovsky) took off, so I gave him the puck."
Usually, a young player on a breakaway will rush the play. But Ponikarovsky showed the poise of a veteran, moving in slowly on Garnett, picking his target --high on the glove side -- and snapping a backhander exactly where he wanted it to go.
But the play all started because Ilya Kovalchuk was having trouble with the puck -- an affliction that recurred over the course of the evening.
In some ways, it seems odd that Kovalchuk was on the point in the first place. Even though the use of a star forward on the blue line has often been tried by coaches, it's an experiment that usually gets scrapped before too long.
In almost every case, these guys rely on their mobility, and by putting them on the point, you take away 75% of their options. They can't go backward, so there goes 180 degrees. The boards prevent them from going to the side. So there goes another 90 degrees. That leaves only one quadrant in which to work.
What the Thrashers have done is start Kovalchuk on the point and then allow him to cruise in, preferably to pick up a pass at the top of the circle and unleash a one-timer.
But last night, he rarely left the point and for that, the Leafs should be thankful.
Atlanta coach Bob Hartley says he put Kovalchuk on the point because, "He gives us a nice option. I feel that he's one of the top shooters in the league. He opens up a lot of space, if not for him for others."
But last night was not a good night for Kovalchuk. Nothing opened up for anyone on the Thrashers (not counting the penalty-box door).
"Pucks were bouncing all over him and he couldn't find the handle," Hartley said.
But then again, had the Thrashers enjoyed as many power plays as they gave the Leafs, it might have been a different story.
The Thrashers spent far too much of the evening killing Leafs power plays to have had any chance of success.
"Defending in this business, you never win hockey games," Hartley said. "You have to be able to attack and when you're sitting in the box, that's impossible against a good veteran team like this."
Especially when that good veteran team is playing a solid game.