One day after firing coach Bob Hartley, Atlanta scored twice in the first 6:23 and went on to a 5-3 victory over the New York Rangers, ending a season-opening six-game losing streak.
“It's a good start for us,” said backup goalie Johan Hedberg, who took over in the first period after starter Kari Lehtonen left with a groin injury. “But we're still far, far away from where we want to be.”
The Thrashers entered the night as the NHL’s only winless team, having lost 10 straight games dating back to last spring’s playoff sweep by the Rangers. GM Don Waddell, who fired Hartley on Wednesday, was behind the bench as interim coach. He urged the defending Southeast Division champs to forget about the first two weeks and treat this game as the start of a new season.
For one night, the strategy worked. Pascal Dupuis and Slava Kozlov scored in the first 6:23. The Rangers, now 2-4-0, never recovered from the early blitz.
“We haven't played from the lead,” Waddell said. “It was important to get the crowd into the game. We could have had four goals in the first period.”
Lehtonen stopped all eight shots he faced before leaving 11:30 into the game with a recurrence of the groin injury that has troubled him for much of his career – he missed more than two months of the 2005-06 season with a similar problem.
“He'll be out a while,'' Waddell said.
Hedberg took over with a 2-0 lead and kept the Rangers off the scoreboard until they scored three power-play goals in the final 10:23.
The coaching change appeared to inspire the Thrashers. Waddell promised to play his stars more and not be quite as demanding as Hartley. He stood next to the tunnel after the first intermission, patting each player as the team headed off with a 2-0 lead.
''It's always been my nature when I'm coaching,'' Waddell said. ''I wear my emotions on my sleeve.''
The Thrashers allowed the first goal in all six losses, but got the jump on the Rangers when a big save by Lehtonen on Michal Rozsival’s shot started a 3-on-2 the other way, Larsen made a no-look pass to Dupuis, who beat Lundqvist.
''We started the game on the right foot,'' Dupuis said. ''Seeing that first goal really helped.''
Kozlov made it 2-0 11 seconds into a 5-on-3 power play when he stuffed Marian Hossa’s pass behind Lundqvist.
“It looks like it's impossible for our team to get a fast start,” Lundqvist said. “They got momentum. We had to play on our heels.”
Todd White scored a shorthanded goal in the second period for the Thrashers, and third-period goals by rookie Bryan Little and Hossa enabled Atlanta to survive power-play goals by Dan Girardi, Brendan Shanahan and Scott Gomez as the two teams spent much of the third period renewing rivalries from last spring.
''You always build rivalries after you play a team in the playoffs,'' Waddell said. ''There's no love lost on either side.''