MAPLE LEAFS (17-24-9) at THRASHERS (21-20-7)
Update: Vesa Toskala will start in net for the Leafs and Ondrej Pavelec starts for the Thrashers.
Toronto 3-7-0; Atlanta 3-4-3
Second of four meetings this season. Alexei Ponikarovsky scored twice in a span of 28 seconds to cap a five-goal second period as Toronto won 5-2 at the Air Canada Centre on Dec. 7.
Atlanta finds itself at a crossroads -- after getting off to the best start in franchise history, the Thrashers gradually fell back to the Eastern Conference pack and begin play Tuesday tied for 11th with Philadelphia, three points out of a playoff spot. Games like Monday's won't help any in their quest to secure just the second postseason berth in franchise history -- playing a Florida team they were battling for position in the standings, Atlanta was blanked 1-0.
This signifies the midway point of a five-game road trip for Toronto. It didn't get off to a flying start with a 6-1 loss in Washington on Friday, but the Maple Leafs showed some gumption Monday in Nashville. After building a 3-0 lead and allowing it to slip away at the hands of the Predators, they pulled out the 4-3 victory on the strength of a Phil Kessel
goal with 5:48 remaining.
"It was a huge goal for our hockey club," teammate Matt Stajan said. "Playing with Phil during this stretch he was pressing. He was trying his best to score that goal and get rolling again.
"It was big goal for him and the team. We know he is going to get his fair share of chances. Hopefully, this will get him rolling."
Possessing an arsenal of snipers that includes captain Ilya Kovalchuk, fellow Russians Vyacheslav Kozlov, Maxim Afinogenov and Nik Antropov, fourth-year veteran Rich Peverley and rookie Evander Kane, it's no surprise Atlanta is tied with defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh for fifth in the League averaging 3.02 goals per game. But nobody could get a puck past Florida's Tomas Vokoun on Monday, and as a result the Panthers jumped a point ahead of the Thrashers in the standings.
"Good effort? Yeah, but without goals, you get no points," Kovalchuk said. "So what's the difference?"
Toronto rookie Tyler Bozak
has a goal and four assists in his first five NHL games. … Kovalchuk, who is 10th in the League in scoring with 53 points, had a three-game goal streak snapped Monday. He also had three assists during that span for Atlanta.
Forwards Mikhail Grabovski
(broken wrist) and Wayne Primeau (knee) are on injured reserve for the Leafs. Defenseman Mike Komisarek
could return from an upper-body injury within the next week. … Thrashers defenseman Christoph Schubert missed Monday's game with a lower-body injury. Goalie Kari Lehtonen is on the mend following back surgery and defenseman Mark Popovic has been out with a broken foot.
Toronto is 6-1-1 against Atlanta since Nov. 29, 2007. … Ondrej Pavelec, who figures to get the start for the Thrashers after Johan Hedberg played Monday, allowed all five goals on 22 shots in the earlier matchup this season with the Leafs, and was pulled after that second period. … Vesa Toskala, the winning goalie that night, is 6-0-2 with a 2.09 goals-against average in his career against Atlanta.
Toronto is nine points out and has five teams it would have to climb over in order to get into the top eight, but coach Ron Wilson isn't conceding anything yet. With a few days in Florida coming up to end this road trip, he's hoping the positive feelings from Monday's win carry over.
"We really persevered," Wilson said. "We hope we can turn this into something, but we have a tough week ahead with three more road games."