January 19, 2010
Leafs trying to break trend
By LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency
ATLANTA -- The Maple Leafs have been terrible when it comes to sweeping back-to-back games since the NHL lockout.
But they had better learn to do it, and quickly, if they hope to sustain any playoff momentum.
Heading into Tuesday's game against the Thrashers, the end of a set that began with Monday's minor Music City Miracle win in Nashville, they have a shot at getting the maximum four points for just the ninth time in 67 back-to-backs since 2005-06. The Thrashers also played Monday night and lost a 1-0 decision in Florida.
"It's a team above us in our conference (by six points) that we definitely have our eyes on," centre Matt Stajan said. "We have to make sure we have a strong start as we did (in Monday's 3-0 opening period explosion)."
Prior to Monday, Atlanta had taken points in six of eight games and its overall offence, led by Ilya Kovalchuk's 28 goals, has been more consistent than Toronto's. Against Florida, Kovalchuk directed 12 shots towards the net, but connected on only four.
Phil Kessel, who had the winner for Toronto in Nashville, did it on his only shot of that game, after getting only one shot the game before and getting an assist. Some nights he's had 10-plus shots and produced nothing on the scoreboard. He takes a five-game points streak into the Atlanta match.
"They had a big win last night, but we're home now," said Thrashers‚ forward Colby Armstrong. "Late in the (Florida) game we carried the play and were driving. We know the Leafs work hard and play a structured game and they‚re physical. We know they're behind us and we'd like to keep it that way and stay in the (playoff) mix ourselves."
Vesa Toskala will start for the Leafs in goal, based on his 6-0 record against the Thrashers, including a 5-2 decision on Dec. 7 in Toronto in the only other game of this season's series. Jonas Gustavsson had the win on Monday, but neither goalie has managed consecutive wins themselves in more than a month.
Both teams had optional skates at Philips Arena on Tuesday morning. It's believed the Thrashers will counter with Johan Hedberg in goal, who made 23 saves on Monday.
There is a possibility centre Wayne Primeau will be ready for the Leafs after a couple of weeks out with a knee injury. Defenceman Garnet Exelby will be making his first start in Atlanta since coming to the Leafs in the Pavel Kubina trade last summer. He played almost 400 games for the Thrashers.