The Atlanta Thrashers seemed to be in the process of turning their abysmal start around with five consecutive wins. Three losses later, they're again looking for answers.
The Toronto Maple Leafs can relate, and on Tuesday night at the Air Canada Centre both teams will look to end three-game slides as Toronto tries to continue its dominance of Atlanta.
The Thrashers dropped six straight games from Oct. 21-Nov. 1, part of a 2-7-2 start that left them in last place in the Southeast Division. After going 10 games without scoring more than four goals, Atlanta did so three times during a five-game winning streak, looking like it was on its way back up the standings.
It's looking more and more like that five-game run may have been a fluke, however. The Thrashers (7-10-2) have totaled five goals in losing their past three games, including a 2-0 loss to Columbus on Saturday - the third time they've been shutout at home.
"We were riding high after winning five straight," defenseman Garnet Exelby said. "This brings us back to harsh reality."
Atlanta had a season-low 15 shots against the Blue Jackets, and hasn't outshot an opponent in seven games. Ilya Kovalchuk, who's scored at least 40 goals each of the last four seasons - including 52 in 2007-08 - has only six through 19 games and has gone four in a row without finding the back of the net.
A quarter of the way into the season, Exelby feels the Thrashers are in danger of letting it slip away.
"We are going to be in big trouble by Christmas, for the playoff picture, if we keep this up," Exelby said. "Each and every one of us has to keep each one other accountable. It's not just a turnover or a missed play. You're letting your teammate down. We need to realize that we are playing for each other."
Atlanta has scored only three goals in losing its past three games to Toronto (7-8-5). The Thrashers have lost 11 of their last 15 games against the Maple Leafs, and have scored only 12 goals in their 11 losses.
Toronto hasn't been able to put any consistent winning streaks together yet this season, though, and enters Tuesday's contest on its third skid of at least three games.
The Leafs picked up a point in their latest loss, 5-4 in overtime to Chicago on Saturday, but no one was happy about failing to come away with two points. Toronto jumped out to a 3-0 lead midway through the second period.
"They just kept coming and coming and coming," Toronto coach Ron Wilson said. "The outcome was inevitable. We weren't supporting the puck, we got way too far ahead of our (defense)."
While the Thrashers have had trouble outshooting anyone, that hasn't been the case with the Maple Leafs, who average more shots (34.3) than any Eastern Conference team. Toronto also gives up the fewest shots per game (27.1) in the East, but goaltender Vesa Toskala has struggled. He's 7-6-4 with a 3.33 goals-against average, and Toskala's .876 save percentage is just 42nd in the NHL.
Toskala should fare better against the Thrashers, against whom he's 5-0-1 with a 1.81 GAA lifetime.
Right wing Nik Antropov, tied for second on the Leafs with 15 points, doesn't have a point in his previous three games, but he has two goals and seven assists in his last four against the Thrashers.
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