Heat turned up on Leafs

The Maple Leafs' Vesa Toskala (left) and Ian White look dejected after the Thrashers scored their...

The Maple Leafs' Vesa Toskala (left) and Ian White look dejected after the Thrashers scored their fourth goal during third period action on Tuesday. (Sun Media/Craig Robertson)

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:02 AM ET

The sweltering Maple Leafs dressing room resembled a sauna when reporters were ushered in minutes after a difficult 5-4 shootout loss to the Atlanta Thrashers last night.

The players, coaches and management of this team are feeling the heat in more ways than one.

The pressure of the Leafs' staggering 3-4-3 start continues to snowball, especially after the team could secure just a single point from a lowly Thrashers squad that skated into the Air Canada Centre with a dismal 1-7 record.

It has digressed to the point where coach Paul Maurice has started to sit some of his regulars who refuse to buy into his pleas.

"If we have to put some of our best players on the bench, well, so be it," a frustrated Maurice said.

The subject in question last night was Alexei Ponikarovsky, who was forced to ride the pine for the final six minutes of the second period after taking a high-sticking penalty in the offensive zone.

Despite Maurice's constant pleas to stay out of the penalty box, the message is falling on deaf ears. In the past two games, opponents have had 12 power plays to Toronto's four.

Ponikarovsky got a semblance of redemption by scoring the equalizer with 9.7 seconds remaining in regulation, jamming the puck under the pad of Thrashers goalie Johan Hedberg to tie the game 4-4.

But the cursed shootout bit the Leafs in the rump again.

Just 4-7 in shootouts a year ago, the Leafs managed only a goal in the penalty-shot format from Nik Antropov. Slava Kozlov and Ilya Kovalchuk, meanwhile, both beat Vesa Toskala in the shootout.

The question must be asked: How long before the suits at Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment Limited have had enough and shake up the team?

MLSEL president Richard Peddie said a week ago that it was "far too early" to consider making a move with general manager John Ferguson, adding that there still were high hopes for a turnaround.

But the natives are getting restless in Toronto, especially after seeing the Leafs post a subpar 3-3-2 record at the ACC in an early home-heavy schedule.

Having squandered an opportunity to gain some valuable early-season points at the ACC, the Leafs play 10 of their next 16 games on the road.

The game marked the NHL debut of defenceman Anton Stralman, who has been described as the "next Nicklas Lidstrom" back in his native Sweden.

Stralman wasn't quite that good in his five-game stint with the Toronto Marlies, but he impressed management by racking up five points and exhibiting a fine penchant of moving the puck quickly out of his own end.

Stralman's insertion meant that big Andy Wozniewski was the odd man out.

Wozniewski has heard criticism that he might not be fleet-footed enough to defend some of the speedier players around the league.

Given the Leafs' defensive woes in the early stages of the season, that could describe the entire Toronto blue-line corps.


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