But thanks to a hard-fought victory that nearly slipped away in the dying seconds of regulation time at Air Canada Centre, there appears to be light at tunnel’s end for the much-maligned basement dwellers of the Southeast Division.
“Hey, it’s two points,” said Thrashers GM and interim coach Don Waddell, whose team improved to 2-7-0 on the season. “It’s a great confidence-builder for us, because we’ve been a little bit fragile.”
The game did not begin well for Atlanta, which gave up a goal to Leafs captain Mats Sundin just 13 seconds into the first period. The Thrashers potted two goals before the end of the first and held a 4-3 lead until Alexei Ponikarovsky’s goal with 9.3 seconds left in the third period.
Atlanta got shootout goals from Slava Kozlov and Ilya Kovalchuk to eke out the win.
“For us to get scored on 13 seconds into the game, then come back and take the lead, and give up a goal at the end (of regulation) is not ideal,” Waddell said, “but coming out of here now when you win the gameaI think it’s a huge confidence-builder for this hockey club.”
The Thrashers averaged just two goals per game through their first eight, but doubled that output in regulation against Toronto and have now won two of their last three games.
“A big, big win for us, and a good battle,” said Thrashers centre Todd White. “Winning two out of three will help get our confidence back, and if we get our confidence back, we’ll create more chances out there. These couple wins are going to help.”
Kovalchuk was best player on the ice for either side, scoring once in regulation while adding the shootout winner. Kovalchuk added an assist, and was dangerous every time he touched the puck.
“We’ve talked about our best players (needing) to be our best players, and certainly they were tonight,” Waddell said in reference to Kovalchuk, who boosted his totals to five goals and eight points on the season. “Kovalchuk has had big nights in Toronto, he loves to play here, so it was a big one for him, too.
“Ilya’s a huge competitor. Everybody talks about (his scoring abilities), but he’s been a tremendous leader for us on and off the ice. He’s taking charge of this hockey club, and it was evident right from the very first shift he was out there that he was going to be a force to be reckoned with.”
The game was the second of a seven-game road swing for Atlanta, which travels to Nashville to take on the struggling Predators on Thursday. Although the Thrashers all agreed the win over Toronto was a good sign, most believed they still haven’t exactly turned the corner just yet.
“Not quite,” said captain Bobby Holik. “We’re still way behind where we want to be. We’ve put ourselves in a big hole, and we’re going to have to get ourselves out of it. Soon.”