By Phil Foley
PA SportsTicker Contributing Writer
ATLANTA (Ticker) — The future was now for Justin Pogge. And if
Monday is any indication, the future may be bright for the
Pogge turned aside 19 shots in his NHL debut and Matt Stajan
scored two goals and set up another, leading the Toronto Maple
Leafs to a 6-2 rout of the listless Atlanta Thrashers.
Alexei Ponikarovsky made things easy for Pogge by recording a
tally 59 seconds into the contest and Jeremy Williams added a
goal nearly 10 minutes later for Toronto, which improved to
5-1-0 over its last six games.
“It was a huge win,” Pogge said. “First start, I was glad the
guys kept scoring. I was pretty nervous before they dropped the
puck. I was just glad I got this one over with.”
The Maple Leafs turned to Pogge after starting goaltender Vesa
Toskala was sidelined with a groin injury in Saturday’s 7-3
triumph the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Recalled from the Toronto Marlies of the American Hockey League
on Sunday, the 22-year-old arrived in this Southern hockey town
anonymously, carrying his equipment through Atlanta’s gigantic
Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.
A 6-3, 204-pounder, Pogge was installed in place of the
ineffective Curtis Joseph and got the job done in his first
career start, making a few highlight reel saves along the way.
“We played really well in front of him,” Toronto coach Ron
Wilson said. “But he made three or four saves that would have
given lots of momentum to (Atlanta). It was nice to see Justin
play as well as he did.”
Of course, it helped that Pogge was facing the lowly Thrashers,
who have just one win here in their last nine games.
Ponikarovsky gave the rookie an early cushion, chipping a
rebound from the slot past Atlanta netminder Kari Lehtonen less
than one minute into the contest.
Toronto extended the advantage to 2-0 midway through the first
period when Dominic Moore slid the puck from behind the net to
Williams, who buried a wrister into the top right side of the
The lead reached 3-0 with 2:24 left the middle period with a
pretty goal by Stajan. Nik Antropov slid the puck from the
right faceoff circle to Stajan, who slid the puck past Lehtonen
in the slot.
“It’s a play we work pretty good off of each other,” Stajan said
of the goal. “I went to the net. It was a great pass by Nik.”
Dominic Moore and Niklas Hagman added third-period goals before
Stajan capped the scoring with an empty-net tally with 75
seconds left for Toronto, which has not lost in Atlanta since
March 29, 2007.
“Hopefully, we can keep this going past Christmas,” Stajan said
of his team’s recent surge. “I think we are surprising a lot of
people. We know we can play with any team.”
Two days after setting aside a team-record 23 shots in the third
period of Atlanta’s 4-3 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning,
Lehtonen was peppered once again by the opposition.
“We got a rookie goalie playing against us and we fire (six)
shots at him (in the first),” Anderson said. “Our goalie is
coming off an injury and takes 18. That tells me we are not
ready to compete.”
Atlanta stuck to the same tried-and-true, yet failed blueprint,
allowing an early goal at home. The club has allowed at least
one goal in their opponents’ first three shots on net in their
last four home games.
“I have to be sharper in the beginning,” said Lehtonen, who was
in net for two of those games. “I let in two goals pretty
quickly, and that’s not good.”
In all, the 25-year-old Lehtonen allowed five goals on 37 shots.
“I don’t think we played very well tonight,” Lehtonen said. “I
think we got outplayed in every aspect of the game – defense,
forwards and goalies. We can’t expect to win anything (that
Colby Armstrong and Todd White found the net for the woeful
Thrashers, who fell to 3-8-2 over their last 13 games.