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Back In the Foster Hewitt Gondola

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs
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6:39 p.m. - Pregame

Wayne Gretzky is in town tonight. This morning, he had some thoughts on Vesa Toskala.

“Unfortunately for us, we saw him a lot,” said the Coyotes coach and a pretty good player in his time.

“He battles every day and he’s got a lot of ability. He’s one of the top goalies in the game.”

And so it begins tonight, the Vesa Toskala era. The Coyotes vs. the Leafs.

The difference between Toskala and Ed Belfour was easily apparent. He answers questions on game day. “What choice do I have?” laughed the little Finn.

The Leafs principal misstep last season was the 72 games for Andrew Raycroft. Toskala, acquired along with Mark Bell for draft choices, has turned Wayne Gretzky’s head which, you have to admit, is a start.

Now, will he do the same for the nearly 20,000 at Air Canada Centre each night this season?

A nice start would be just that. Andrew Raycroft and Belfour struggled a bit in their early going in the centre of the hockey universe and incurred some booing.

It mattered not one bit. Make a save in October, and all is forgiven. Toskala survived a lengthy goaltending battle in San Jose. He is 30, not exactly a kid and dead centre in his prime.

I’m betting Toskala adds 10 points to the Leafs fortunes this season. A good goalscorer, you know, the Gretzky guy,  probably recognizes a good goalie.

Talk to you after the puck drops...

8:24 p.m. - After the first...

Vesa Toskala's debut got off to a tough start in the first period.

First, Toskala was beaten on his first shot as a Leaf. Couldn't blame him, Daniel Carcillo's goal from close in came after a grievous giveaway by Leafs defenceman Staffan Kronwall.

Tony Salmelainen equaled things, ripping a shot past former Leafs goalie Mikael Tellqvist but a long screened shot, this one off the stick of Zbynek Michalek (yes, Pat, I'd like to buy a vowel) found its way past Toskala.

But whereas Toskala could miss every shot and still find himself in prime position when the season starts in October, Salmelainen is a different case. The Leafs penalty killing needs substantial improvement and Salmelainen, who is ridiculously fast, could find a niche in Toronto along with another burner, Boyd Devereaux.

Wayne Gretzky called steering the youthful Coyotes "the greatest challenge of my career," but you wouldn't know it in the first. The youthful Coyotes, playing without defensive linchpin Ed Jovanovski, looked fine.
Kyle Wellwood, out of the lineup with slight tenderness in his abdomen after offseason surgery reckons that for some players, abdominal injuries are tended to throughout a career.

Anton Stralman's first period passed uneventfully. Thought you'd like to know.

9:20 p.m. - After the second...

How early in the pre-season is it. Vesa Toskala has a tan.

Carcillo scored his second of the night on a power play in the second period and the Coyotes lead 3-1..

It all lends itself to one of the great exhibition season debates.

Okay, there are no pre-season debates, do you play to win or play not to get hurt.

Conventional wisdom dictates that you never play not to get hurt. By thinking about getting hurt, you get hurt.

I do not play professional hockey. Instead, I think “boy, this better not be the day I get rich.” So far, I have not gotten rich which tells me that you should go ahead and think about not getting hurt.

Now there is a second question. Betty or Veronica? Never mind, wrong blog.

Having agreed that you will not get hurt, should a player go full out.

Wayne Gretzky says so. “In Edmonton, we went out hard every night.” He had some success but I suspect there is some revisionist history here. I can’t see Wayne Gretzky blocking shots in an exhibition game in Port Huron, Michigan.

Still, when you finish 29th, as the Coyotes did last year, well suffice to say you might want to bring an extra bit of hustle.

There was plenty of that from both sides. Darcy Tucker squared off to fight but couldn’t find a taker. There has been plenty of body contact. Not bad for what Leafs coach Paul Maurice calls the 75 per cent pace of the pre-season.

9:58 p.m. - After the Game... Maple Leafs - 2, Coyotes - 3

The question, of course, is what is Darcy Tucker trying to prove?

Tucker was an arresting figure in the Leafs game, a 3-2 loss to Phoenix.

First, Tucker thought he had a taker for a fight but peace broke out, landing just him in the penalty box.

At 11:25, Tucker veered into the slot and jabbed an airborne loose puck past former teammate Mikael Telqvist. He was diligent all night.

This, of course, goes back to our theme - how hard to you play?

The answer, is as hard as you need to and while they are at wildly divergent stages of their career, Tucker and Alex Steen, feel quite a need.

Steen’s double minor for high sticking with just over four minutes left sealed the deal, a 3-2 win for Phoenix but spending the night at centre, he was a handful.

One word for various players. 
Anton Stralman: smooth.
Mats Sundin:absent.
Jiri Tlusty: fast.
Tony Salmelainen: faster.
Vesa Toskala: fine.

Until next time Leafs Nation...
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