Justin Pogge, still just 22, will play goal for the Maple Leafs tonight in Atlanta against the Thrashers. This was not quite the plan.
For one thing, the Leafs had hoped the annual groin problem Vesa Toskala suffers this time of year would be under control. It wasn’t like coach Ron Wilson hadn’t seen it before.
Second, Pogge’s statistics, a 10-9-3 record, a 2.86 goals against average and .890 save percentage, are far from top drawer.
Under optimum circumstances, Pogge would have continued the work he was doing with goaltending coach Corey Hirsch and arrived at training camp next season with the back-up Leafs job ostensibly his.
How did you know there had to be a but? At 41 and in his 19th year in the league, Curtis Joseph has not been able to adapt to life as the backup. It seems to be the nature of the position. Far more goalies seem to be able to graduate from backup to starter than go the other way.
Plans are nice. Timetables are nice. But at the end of the day, the question is simple enough: can Pogge play goal at the NHL level?
He has some experience, the World Juniors where he ran up a 6-0 record in 2006 and two and a half seasons with the Marlies.
If a rising tide raises all ships, Pogge’s game will blossom at the NHL level. No one doubts his tremendous athleticism or his desire to succeed.
But if Pogge is torched, he has the option of returning to the American league and rebuilding his confidence for next time. Clearly, there will soon be a different face under the baseball cap at the end of the Leafs bench.
Meanwhile, fans will be on edge to see if Leafs’ defenceman Ian White continues his tango with Thrashers stars Ilya Kovalchuk. The three clashed in Atlanta’s 6-3 win, Nov. 25.
After sitting out the first month White has emerged as one of the most dependable Leaf reargurads. He had 23:28 of ice time in Saturday’s win over Pittsburgh, tops on the team.