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Toskala Back Between Pipes Friday

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs
Video: Wilson | Pony | Toskala | Kubina | Mayers | Schenn | Hagman

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Friday night, Vesa Toskala returns to his rightful place in the Maple Leafs cage for the Leafs pre-season game against Pittsburgh. And when the season starts in earnest in Detroit October 9, it will be Toskala again and, need you be reminded, not Andrew Raycroft who drew the opening assignment in a 4-3 loss to Ottawa, last Oct. 3.

Say what you want about the Maple Leafs, they seem set in goal with Toskala, fresh off an eventful first year in Toronto, assuming the job he earned last year with some stellar play.

 Over four seasons in San Jose, Toskala proved he could tend goal for a good team.

The Sharks aren’t a big-time offensive juggernaut. Last year, Ron Wilson’s fifth behind the Sharks bench, the Sharks 222 goals for was fifth from the bottom in the Western Conference. The Leafs actually scored nine more goals than the Sharks.

Problem is, they game up 67 more. And there, gentle reader, lies the difference between 36 wins and a seat by the television for the post-season and entering the playoffs as the number two seed by virtue of 49 regular-season wins.

Which brings us, in a longish way, back to Toskala and an indisputable truism about goalies. There are goalies who shine on bad teams. They are heroic and undaunted by the odd cheap goal because they deliver four or five miracle saves a night. Former Leaf netminder Mike Palmateer was such a goalie. So, for my money is Roberto Luongo.

Then there are goalies who thrive on more sound teams. Accustomed to little room for error, they stop everything they need to stop and then some. Martin Brodeur and Ryan Miller come to mind.

Rarest of them all, is the goalie who can do both and that, by some co-incidence is exactly what the Maple Leafs need. Without Mats Sundin, the Leafs are a porous team hopimg to morph into a sound defensive team.

“It’s a little different to be a goalie here than it was in San Jose,” Toskala said. “Here there are more shots. You can let two, three, four goals in and if you make two, three, four good saves, somebody will say you played a good game.”

“You can’t let in those easy goals on a tight team because you’re only facing about 20 shots. It’s a little bit different.”

In a funny way, Toskala, like most goalies, finds fun in fronting a bad bunch.

“When you face more shots, it’s kind of easier to play than when you’re facing 20. Mentally it’s harder (to face a low total) but I can get used to it. Everything went well in San Jose and everything went pretty well here last year.”

He has a point. The Leafs were 24th in shots against last season and no one was knocking Toskala’s work. Toskala finished 33-25-6-7-3 last season with a 2.74 goals against average and a .903 save percentage.

Forward Mark Bell played with Toskala in San Jose and here. Tight team, scrambling team, it doesn’t matter he said.

“He’s just a flat-out good goalie. I can’t tell you how many 2-1 games he won us in San Jose. At the same time, last year, there were nights here when we lost something like 5-4 and he played great. No matter how you want to shape it, he’s a good goalie.”

The 30-year-old Toskala’s greatest asset is a flatline emotional level.

“When you don’t have confidence in your goalie, you try to do extra things, dive around, get yourself out of position because you haven’t got confidence in that person,” said Leafs goalie coach Cory Hirsch. “Vesa is very good calming the team down. They know if they do their job, he can do his job and everything works together.”

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