One day after Bob Hartley was fired, Atlanta scored two goals in the first 6 « minutes, overcame an injury to goalie Kari Lehtonen and finally picked up its first victory of the season, beating the New York Rangers 5-3 Thursday night.
The Thrashers lost their first six games, leaving them as the only winless team in the NHL and leading general manager Don Waddell to fire Hartley before the season totally fell apart.
The GM is serving as interim coach, just as he did after dismissing the only other coach in franchise history, Curt Fraser. Waddell urged the defending Southeast Division champs to forget about the first two weeks and treat it as the start of a new season.
Well, this opening night turned out much better than the last one.
Pascal Dupuis put the Thrashers ahead 4:21 into the game, and Slava Kozlov stuffed the puck past Henrik Lundqvist during a two-man advantage just over 2 minutes later.
Todd White added a short-handed goal midway through the second period, and the Rangers never recovered.
Lehtonen stopped eight shots before going out with 8 « minutes left in the first, having injured his troublesome groin again. A similar problem in 2005-06 sidelined the Finn for more than two months, but it wasn’t immediately known how long this ailment might keep him out.
Johan Hedberg took over in net and kept the Rangers off the board until they scored three power-play goals in the final 10:23.
The Thrashers had actually lost 10 in a row, going back to last season’s playoffs. The Rangers swept Atlanta in the opening round, a stunning end that seemed to carry over into the new season.
But the coaching change inspired the Thrashers, with Waddell vowing to play his stars more and not be quite as demanding as the autocratic Hartley. At the first intermission, the interim coach stood next to the tunnel, patting each player as they headed off with a 2-0 lead.
White added to the lead with a great effort while the Thrashers were short-handed in the second period. The teams went back and forth in the third. Rookie Bryan Little and Marian Hossa scored for Atlanta, twice giving the Thrashers a four-goal lead.
Notes: Lehtonen wasn’t the only Atlanta player to go down. D Tobias Enstrom smashed into the boards after getting a cross check from Martin Straka in the second period.
Enstrom had to be helped to the locker room, but the team didn’t announce his condition during the game. ... Waddell’s first game as interim coach produced the same result as his last stint behind the bench. Atlanta beat Carolina 5-3 a day after Fraser was fired in December 2002. Waddell went 4-5-1 as coach before hiring Hartley.
First, he knocked the puck away from Chris Drury at the blue line, then passed off to Eric Perrin to set up a 2-on-1.
Perrin passed back to White, whose blistering shot was stopped by Lundqvist. But the puck slipped out from under the goalie’s pads while he was sprawled face down on the ice. White spotted it first, tucking it around the post before the Rangers could react.
Lundqvist slammed his stick off the goal in disgust after getting up.
Dan Girardi, Brendan Shanahan and Scott Gomez had late goals for New York to make it respectable.