Hot Hossa a big concern

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 10:33 AM ET

There wasn't much to choose between the Maple Leafs and Atlanta Thrashers last season, identical records of 41-33-8 and 90-point non-playoff status.

But there will be a gaping nine-point difference by the time the 11 p.m. sports news airs tonight, unless Toronto a) lassoes Marian Hossa or b) corrects its own deficiencies to end a four-game losing streak.

Hossa, who was the National Hockey League's second-leading scorer before last night, burned the Leafs for a hat trick and an assist in a 5-0 game in Dixie on Thursday, reversing eight Toronto wins in a row over Atlanta. A 4-3 shootout loss in Montreal on Saturday added to the cool atmosphere at the Leafs' practice yesterday, which coach Paul Maurice interpreted as a good omen for tonight.

"They don't talk on the ice and that's the first sign they feel (the pressure)," Maurice said. "(This practice) was all business, a lot of talk on the bench about the game, the practice and what we're trying to do. When things are going good, they're ripping each other to shreds and it's all fun.

"We had some good jump today. When Mats and the other two big guys (Alexei Ponikarovsky and Nik Antropov) get going, they drive practice. Our captains (Sundin, Tomas Kaberle and Bryan McCabe) worked hard (in practice) and that's also a good sign. We need that first-period effort we had in Montreal for 60 minutes (tonight)."

But talk is cheap if the Leafs let Hossa dance again.

"He got loose on us, there's no question," Maurice said. "We did a better job physically on him in the first game (a 4-2 win here on Oct. 30). He's a great player, elite in the league right now with the way the game we think is being called."

Maurice smiled when asked about having last line change tonight to counter the slippery Slovak right winger.

"Last change makes a big difference, but the question is, does it matter? He's not seeing the third and fourth line every night and getting those points, he's seeing the best. He's on the power play and he's still good enough to generate (goals) 5-on-5."

But centre Matt Stajan cautioned that Hossa is just part of the Thrashers' lethal package.

"Guys in the room know Hossa, but they have (50-goal winger Ilya) Kovalchuk and a couple of good players.

"We just have to worry about our game. If we play like we can, we'll limit (Hossa's) chances."


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