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Leafs in upbeat mood despite four straight losses; hot Thrashers up next

The reality is that they've lost four in a row, and on Tuesday they face a sizzling Atlanta club that blew them away 5-0 last Thursday and has won four in a row. Small potatoes, say the Leafs. "I liked our practice," said head coach Paul Maurice. "We had some good jump."

Maurice is a staunch supporter of the power of positive thinking. A velvety voice seizing an opportunity during Maurice's scrum with reporters attempted to squeeze an adjective out of him to describe the Leafs' skid. Could it be a slide, or even a slump?

"The back end has come out a little bit," Maurice responded. "I'm not sure if we're going sideways yet, but we're still on the road."

In his mind, there's been no hint of things turning permanently sour.

"I've always felt you sense it in practice first," said Maurice. "They don't talk to each other on the ice - that's the first sign your team is really squeezing it or feeling the pressure.

"It was all business (Monday) and there was a lot of communication on the ice."

Toronto has two points less right now than it had after the same number of games, 28, last season, and defensive weaknesses still are a major problem. The Leafs' 3.09 goals-against average was 20th among the 30 teams as of Monday.

Meanwhile, the sun peaked out from behind the clouds.

"The mood has been good," said Maurice. "We've got some real powerful leaders, I think, and they do a nice job of controlling the emotions of the hockey team."

The Leafs might not be feeling so good after another dose of Marian Hossa. The Thrashers star has scored 20 goals, including three on Andrew Raycroft in that 5-0 laugher.

"Every time he steps on the ice you know you have to be aware of him," said defenceman Pavel Kubina. "You know he's fast and he's going to try to beat you one on one.

"You have to play the body against a player like that. He's hot right now and it's going to be a big challenge for our whole defence."

The Leafs are .500 on home ice.

"We're still only two months into a lot of systems work we're doing so there's going to be some bumps," said Maurice.

Carlo Colaiacovo has returned from a post-injury conditioning stint with the AHL's Toronto Marlies, and he's rarin' to go, but will probably have to wait.

"Brendan Bell still looks good," said Maurice. "It's not going to be an automatic in (for Colaiacovo)."

The oft-injured Torontonian is thrilled to be back with the big club after a worrisome concussion.

"It's nice to be around the boys," he said. "I've had a couple of really strong games with the Marlies and feel I'm ready.

"The tough times I've gone through have helped me become mentally strong. If I can get through that, I can get through anything."

Notes: The Leafs play in Boston on Thursday. They've lost their last three games against the Bruins . . . It's on to Detroit for a game Saturday night. It'll be the only meeting between the Original Six teams this season and Kyle Wellwood's dad, a bylaw enforcement officer in the Windsor region, has acquired about 70 tickets so relatives and friends can be in Joe Louis Arena . . . Raycroft has a .901 save percentage. Montreal's Cristobal Huet has a league-best .937 and Ottawa's Ray Emery is close behind at .931 . . . Maurice says a lot of teams are tightening things up defensively and "there's a lot more allowed (by the referees) than three or four weeks ago." Interference is creeping back into the game away from the puck, he suggested. "The latch-on is being allowed," he said. "The old hit-and-pin is back."


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