Thrashers win, move into first place
It didn’t take the Toronto Maple Leafs long to remind their fans about their many troubles.
Tobias Enstrom had two goals and two assists, Fredrik Modin scored twice against his former team and the Atlanta Thrashers beat Toronto, 6-3, on Monday night.
The Maple Leafs were back on home ice after a three-game swing through Western Canada in which they dropped the last two games to Calgary and Vancouver.
The return to the Air Canada Centre did little to reverse their fortunes, as the Maple Leafs found themselves in a two-goal hole before the game was 3 minutes old. By the final period, fans had thrown waffles on the ice and were calling for coach Ron Wilson to be fired.
”We didn’t play well enough to win this game, and the start killed us,” Toronto captain Dion Phaneuf said. ”That’s where it started. It was uphill from there, and we never could get back into it.”
Anthony Stewart also scored and Andrew Ladd had an empty-net goal for the Thrashers.
Atlanta moved past the Washington Capitals for first place in the Southeast Division. The surprising Thrashers have picked up at least a point in 14 of their past 16 games.
Mikhail Grabovski scored for the fourth game in a row as part of a brief third-period Maple Leafs rally that ultimately fell short.
John Mitchell and Nikolai Kulemin also scored for Toronto.
”We never quit,” Wilson said. ”We had an incredible number of scoring chances. Our problem was basically the first shift for every line and every pair of defense was a disaster and we ended up down 2-0.”
The Maple Leafs are 4-15-1 when allowing the first goal.
”We just need better starts,” forward Kris Versteeg said. ”That’s pretty much it. There’s no secret.”
Despite the fast start for Atlanta, the game remained close through the halfway point, with Mitchell scoring his first of the season on a second-period Toronto power play to cut the lead to 2-1. But Modin’s second of the game came with just 56 seconds remaining in the middle period, restoring the two-goal lead.
Then things turned ugly for Toronto.
A turnover by Kulemin led to Stewart’s goal just more than 3 minutes into the third, and Enstrom picked up his second less than a minute later when a weak shot from the point eluded Jonas Gustavsson.
That led to Wilson’s pulling Gustavsson, who was beaten five times on 18 shots, in favor of rookie James Reimer, while fans booed and chanted ”Fire Wilson!”
”That’s getting sickening,” Toronto forward Clarke MacArthur said. ”(The coaches) aren’t the ones out there in the first 5 minutes not skating. I’ve said it before with the systems and that, they’re as good as anybody’s. It’s about guys doing it.”
Added Phaneuf: ”It’s not very pleasant to hear that chant or to be booed in your own building. As a player, you don’t like to be booed in your own building, you don’t like to hear those kinds of chants. It’s tough to hear and tough to take.”
Reimer stopped all four shots he faced in the first action of his NHL career.
The Maple Leafs provided a brief glimmer of hope when Grabovski and Kulemin scored power-play goals against Ondrej Pavelec just 15 seconds apart, but the comeback attempt ended with Ladd’s empty-netter.
Pavelec made 37 saves.
Modin opened the scoring when he was left all alone in front of Gustavsson, allowing him to tip home Ron Hainsey’s point shot.
The Thrashers’ second goal came 28 seconds later on the power play courtesy of Enstrom, who blasted home a cross-ice pass from Dustin Byfuglien at the blue line.
Byfuglien had a pair of assists, giving him 35 points on the season. After being moved to defense from forward after an offseason trade from Chicago, Byfuglien leads all NHL defensemen in scoring and is just one point off his single-season best.
”If I see a chance to jump up I can go and not worry about sticking to a plan,” Byfuglien said about being able to play both defense and forward. ”I’m always going to have someone backing me up. They all know I’ve played forward, and they all know I’m not afraid to jump up and go in front of the net on a rush.”
NOTES: Tomas Kaberle got an assist on Mitchell’s goal for the 500th point of his career. … The Maple Leafs reassigned tough guy Jay Rosehill to the AHL’s Toronto Marlies. … Brett Lebda, typically a defenseman, played left wing on the Maple Leafs’ fourth line. … Attendance was 19,301.