ATLANTA – Justin Pogge only wanted a shot to prove himself as an NHL goaltender. Four years after Toronto drafted him 90th overall, Pogge finally made the most of his big chance.
“I was pretty nervous before they dropped the puck, but once they dropped the puck, it was just another game,” Pogge said. “I’m just glad I got this one over with.”
Matt Stajan scored two goals, including an empty-netter, and Pogge won his rookie debut in the Maple Leafs’ second straight victory, 6-2 over the Atlanta Thrashers on Monday night.
“It was nice to see Justin play as well as he did,” Toronto coach Ron Wilson said. “When he is in a butterfly, all he has to do is move two or three inches. We played really in well in front of him, but he made three or four saves that would have given (Atlanta) lots of momentum.”
Alexei Ponikarovsky, Jeremy Williams, Niklas Hagman and Dominic Moore each scored a goal for the second straight game for Toronto, which has won five of six.
The Thrashers, outshot 38-21, lost for the eighth time in their last nine home games.
“I don’t think we got anything going the whole game, and that’s just not a good feeling,” Atlanta goalie Kari Lehtonen said. “It’s good that we play tomorrow and change things around, get a win and have a good Christmas.”
Stajan’s eighth goal made it 3-0 with 2:24 left in the second period, as he skated the centre of a 3-on-2 breakaway and took Nik Antropov’s pass from the bottom of the left circle to beat Lehtonen’s stick side.
After playing three periods of front of the six-foot-three Pogge, Stajan still hadn’t quite adjusted to the size of a rookie who stands five inches taller than the Leafs’ No. 1 goalie, Vesa Toskala.
“He’s a big goalie,” Stajan said. “We had a lot of odd-man rushers, and a good defence creates offence.”
After Ponikarovsky scored his 11th just 59 seconds into the first, Williams gave the Leafs a 2-0 lead nearly 10 minutes later. Moore, who made it 4-1 on the game’s only power-play goal midway through the third, was behind Lehtonen’s right shoulder when he fed Williams on the inside of the left circle.
Pogge, called up from the AHL Toronto Marlies on Sunday, stopped 19 of 21 shots. The two that beat him came from Colby Armstrong, who scored his eighth goal to cut the lead to 3-1 with 8.9 seconds left in the second, and Todd White, who added his 11th to make it 4-2 with 5:46 remaining.
“I’m just glad the guys kept scoring,” Pogge said. “They got more than I let in. They were letting me see the puck. I love that. Every time they got one, we got a couple.”
Lehtonen, in his second game since missing seven weeks with an injured back, faced 35 shots before his teammates managed their 13th midway in the third.
“I don’t think we stuck to the game plan as well as we should have, or would have liked to going in, but our effort tonight I don’t think was acceptable,” Thrashers forward Chris Thorburn said. “No one should be happy.”
Notes: Antropov assisted on Ponikarovsky’s goal to give the 10th-year Leafs winger seven points in the last four games. … Stajan, coming off a two-assist performance at Boston, had his 20th on the Ponikarovsky goal. … Atlanta dropped to 2-13-1 when trailing after two periods. … The Thrashers are 2-8-1 against the Atlantic Division. … Toronto improved to 8-0-2 when leading after two periods and 1-4-1 against the Southeast.