Maple Leafs-Thrashers Preview
GAME: Toronto Maple Leafs (27-13-8-3) at Atlanta Thrashers (21-23-6-2).
TIME: Friday, 7:30 p.m. EST.
Now that the Atlanta Thrashers have Dany Heatley back in their lineup, they
can turn their attention toward making up ground in the playoff race.
Heatley and the Thrashers will try to end a four-game winless streak when
the Toronto Maple Leafs visit Philips Arena.
Four months after he was involved in a car accident that resulted in the
death of teammate Dan Snyder, Heatley played his first game of the season
Wednesday in Atlanta's 1-1 tie against St. Louis.
Heatley was seriously injured in the accident, suffering a broken jaw and
torn ligaments in his right knee. After surgery, it was expected that Heatley
would miss most - if not all - of the season.
Although he may have been a bit rusty, Heatley gave plenty of reasons for
optimism. He tied for the team lead with four shots on goal and had a pair of
scoring opportunities late in the first period with his team on a power play.
"Now the first one's over," Heatley said. "Maybe I can move on."
Atlanta coach Bob Hartley put Heatley - the league's ninth-leading scorer
last season with 89 points - on a line with Slava Kozlov and Daniel Corso.
Heatley also played at times with star left wing Ilya Kovalchuk.
"It's a very positive first step," Hartley said. "I put him in some tough
situations at key moments in the game."
With two games in two nights starting Friday, Hartley said it would be
Heatley's decision to play. However, Heatley said his knee was fine and that he
had every intention of playing Friday and Saturday at Tampa Bay.
The Thrashers were headed for their third straight loss Wednesday before
Jeff Cowan's goal with 2:24 left in regulation allowed them to salvage a point.
A first-place team most of this season, Atlanta has two wins in its last 15
games (2-9-3-1). With four goals during an 0-2-2 skid, Atlanta can clearly use
Heatley's scoring and playmaking ability.
Despite getting hit hard by injuries, Toronto has remained near the top of
the Eastern Conference. The Maple Leafs are battling Ottawa, Philadelphia and
New Jersey for the best record in the East.
Right wing Mikael Renberg became the latest to join Toronto's lengthy injury
list. He left Tuesday's 2-0 loss to Carolina in the second period with a pulled
hamstring and did not return.
The Leafs are already missing forwards Alexander Mogilny, Owen Nolan, Darcy
Tucker and Tom Fitzgerald and defenseman Wade Belak because of injuries.
"We are not expecting anyone of the group that has been off for a while to
return," Toronto coach Pat Quinn said. "There have been several dates
mentioned for Nolan, including Saturday, but it does not look that way."