Thrashers whip Leafs

LANCE HORNBY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:04 AM ET

For Curtis Joseph, it has been six years since he last won a game for Toronto.

To the rest of the Maple Leafs, it only seems that long between victories. But they won't get out of this four-game losing streak playing the passive hockey exhibited during much of last night's 6-3 loss to the Atlanta Thrashers.

The switch to Joseph from slumping Vesa Toskala, the Brian Burke hype, the Lee Stempniak trade and some questionable hits by the visitors failed to inspire.

"They were allowed to push us around and we can't allow that in our building," Leafs' Niklas Hagman said. "It's the little things. We lost the 1-on-1 battles, we allowed them to come out from behind our net. We're a good skating team, but we don't deserve to win games like that."

Leafs-Thrashers contests always seem to have a nasty edge to them and a shoulder hit by Colby Armstrong on Jason Blake might result in a possible concussion, though Blake also seemed to be favouring his arm as he departed after the third-period incident. A running battle between Ian White and Ilya Kovalchuk, with the latter raking White's head with his stick, also flared into a brief fight.

"We're concerned about blows to the head, so we might as well send that (replay) in (to the NHL)," White said. "He seems like a selfish guy. He'll get what's coming to him.

"A team like that comes in here and pushes us around. We can't allow that to get out or other teams will come in here and take liberties with us."

Kovalchuk welcomes the challenge.

"We play three more times (this season)," Kovalchuk said. "If he has got something against me, I have always got an answer."

But Wilson saw little spirit from his players most of the night, admitting they might have got creamed on a couple of hits because they were being too cute with the puck.

"We weren't clicking in any part of the game," Wilson said. "We had a flat bench and that's disappointing to me. They were dictating play and we had guys going off the ranch trying to (improvise)."

Atlanta, one of the few teams behind the Leafs in the conference, made the first and fifth goals on Joseph look easy, but there was time for the rest of the Leafs to get back in the game. Joseph now is 0-3-1 in his second coming as a Leaf, but terrible coverage and clearing in the slot led to a plethora of problems.

Wilson quickly moved Stempniak up to the first line with Nik Antropov and Matt Stajan when Alexei Ponikarovsky struggled, but the other three lines each had some elements in disarray. When they did penetrate, Johan Hedberg turned away quality shots.

Speaking of which, the Leafs did avoid getting outshot for the 17th straight game, but because of a leak in netminding, they're 2-6-2 in their past 10. They're also in danger of going 0-for-the-week with games in Ottawa tomorrow and home against the Flyers on Saturday.

Stempniak, who will go down as the last of 67 trades Fletcher made as GM, buzzed around the net and generally made a good first impression on a line with Dominic Moore and Blake. Stempniak had an assist when Antropov banked a puck home off Niclas Havelid's skate. Jeff Finger's first goal as a Leaf and Hagman's eighth accounted for the rest.

Armstrong and Kovalchuk rubbed salt in the wound with goals, while Todd White had a pair and Chris Thorburn and Mathieu Schneider also scored. While Joseph was out of position on his glove side when Armstrong first beat him, he stopped the next 11, including a Kovalchuk breakaway. Hedberg made the save of the game, stretching his left leg across the crease to rob Mikhail Grabovski on a 2-on-1 in the first.

"I've got to be better, I've got to keep the game close," said Joseph, once again denied his 450th NHL win.

For Thrashers' John Anderson, an ex-Leaf returning for the first time as an NHL coach, it was a perfect night.

"I've been thinking about this since I got the job, the first game (of the year) and certainly the first game back in Toronto. I'm really proud of how we played tonight, We worked really hard and thought we deserved the win."

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REPLAY

IN THIS CORNER

In a most unusual feuds, Leafs lightweight Ian White and Atlanta Thrashers star Ilya Kovalchuk were in each other's sights all night and fought to a quick draw, while White was trying to drop them with Slava Kozlov later in the game.

FOIL KNUCKLES?

The Hanson Brothers, who have a role in Slap Shot 3, The Junior League, officiated at the opening faceoff in their Charlestown Chiefs sweaters with a bemused Nik Antropov taking it for the Leafs.

LEAFS YANKED

With the trade for Buffalo-born Lee Stempniak and the imminent hiring of Brian Burke, the Leafs will have seven American-born personnel and a dual citizen aboard, including players Jeff Finger, Ryan Hollweg, Jason Blake and coaches Ron Wilson and Dallas Eakins.

POINT-GETTERS

Toronto G A P

Niklas Hagman 1 1 2

Nik Antropov 1 0 1

Jeff Finger 1 0 1

Matt Stajan 0 1 1

Lee Stempniak 0 1 1

Ryan Hollweg 0 1 1

Dominic Moore 0 1 1

Anton Stralman 0 1 1

Atlanta

Colby Armstrong 1 0 1

Todd White 2 0 2

Chris Thornburn 1 0 1

Ilya Kovalchuk 1 0 1

Mathieu Schneider 1 0 1

Slava Kozlov 0 2 2

Bryan Little 0 1 1

Eric Boulton 0 1 1

Jim Slater 0 1 1

Marty Reasoner 0 1 1

Nathan Oystrick 0 1 1

NEXT UP

Tomorrow -- 7:30 p.m.; Maple Leafs at Ottawa Senators; SNO, AM 640


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