TORONTO - The Atlanta Thrashers handed the slumping Toronto Maple Leafs a lopsided loss.
If Brian Burke takes over as general manager, as expected in the coming days, he surely won't stand for such poor performances.
The latest dud from the Maple Leafs came Tuesday night with a 6-3 home loss to the Thrashers. Atlanta (8-10-2) entered with the worst record in the Eastern Conference, but rode inspired play by Ilya Kovalchuk and two goals from Todd White to victory.
"We're playing the same kind of roller-coaster hockey that we did in the start of the year, (when) we managed to be more on the good side than right now," Maple Leafs forward Niklas Hagman said. "It's little things. We keep losing 1-on-1 battles. We allowed them to come in front of our net and they pushed us around a little bit.
"That's something we shouldn't allow in our building."
Toronto has surrendered an NHL-worst 78 goals, a fact that surprises new Toronto coach Ron Wilson. He owns the reputation of being a defensive coach, but he is still struggling to get through to this group.
"It's your effort and compete level, and it wasn't there," Wilson said. "It was a flat bench and just dead. That's what disappoints me more than anything."
Atlanta had lost three in a row, but the Thrashers gave coach John Anderson the effort he was hoping to see. As a former Maple Leaf and teammate of Wilson, Anderson had this game circled on his calendar since the schedule was released.
The rookie NHL coach was raving about Kovalchuk after watching his star player score a goal and engage Leafs defenseman Ian White in a rare fight.
"That's the most enthusiasm I've seen him have all year," Anderson said. "He's got a bit of a bloody nose for it, but I think he'd trade that for a win any day.
"Kovie, he's the face of the Thrashers. When you see your big scorer go in there and fight and score and hit and do whatever he has to do and scrap to win, I think it lifts the rest of the team."
Colby Armstrong, Chris Thorburn and Mathieu Schneider also scored for Atlanta.
Nik Antropov, Jeff Finger and Hagman had goals for the Maple Leafs (7-9-5).
In addition to their own play, the Leafs were unhappy with a third-period hit by Armstrong that knocked Jason Blake out of the game with a possible concussion. The Thrashers forward appeared to catch Blake with a shoulder to the head.
"When you watch the hit, the guy left his feet," Wilson said. "He launched himself, that's something that we want to eradicate from the game. Blakey was in a vulnerable position."
It was that kind of night for the Maple Leafs.
Atlanta scored the first three goals against backup Curtis Joseph and that was too big of a hole for the Maple Leafs. Once they fell behind, Wilson shook up his top line - a decision that paid immediate dividends.
Lee Stempniak, in his first game since being acquired from St. Louis, joined Antropov and Matt Stajan. The trio got the Leafs on the board at 7:31.
"We turned the puck over a little bit too much and that's what they thrive on," Stempniak said. "The way they play, the systems they play, they're banking on turnovers and creating their offense off that.
"It seems like we played into that a little."
The battle between Kovalchuk and White late in the second period provided a bit of a sideshow for the 19,297 fans in attendance, but it didn't keep them occupied for long. The crowd booed the hometown Leafs for one of the first times all season.
The building was also half empty for much of the final 20 minutes.
"As players, we've just got to be ready," Hagman said. "When you don't battle, it doesn't matter how well you play the system."
Notes:@ Joseph's previous regular-season start for the Maple Leafs at home was Feb. 26, 2002. ... Zach Bogosian (leg), Kari Lehtonen (back), Boris Valabik (healthy) and Joseph Crabb (healthy) sat out for Atlanta. ... Toronto was without Mike Van Ryn (hand) and Jonas Frogren (arm). ... Toronto hasn't been outshot in a game since Oct. 17. ... The Leafs entered the game with the NHL's worst-ranked power play. They were 1-for-5.