TORONTO - Vesa Toskala was thankful it was only an exhibition game.
The new Toronto Maple Leafs goalie relinquished a soft goal on the first shot he faced in his debut, and the Phoenix Coyotes went on to a 3-2 victory Thursday night. "Maybe I was trying a little too hard but it's behind me now," Toskala said after pulling off his pads. The Leafs have such high hopes for the former San Jose backup that they gave him a US$8-million, two-year contract extension as soon as they acquired him from the Sharks in July. This was not the start the 30-year-old Finn envisioned as he began his quest to supplant Andrew Raycroft as No. 1 netminder.
"It was the first game in a long time," said Toskala. "It's always tough to start a season.
"The first game, it's hard to know what to expect. Everything is new - new team, new crowd. I don't know if I was nervous but, you know . . . I'm not happy about the first period but that's pretty normal after a long summer.
"I really wasn't at the top of my game right away. I had to fight through it. The second and third I actually felt pretty good."
Coach Paul Maurice was asked for an assessment.
"Not great, not bad," said Maurice.
Not only did Toskala lose his first start in the blue and white, it was a Leafs castoff, Mikael Tellqvist, who got the win. The Swede said afterwards that he had butterflies in his stomach in returning as an opponent to a city where he spent year after year trying to prove he belonged as a Leaf.
"We're really happy for Tellqvist, how he stepped up and played," said coach Wayne Gretzky.
"It was a great opportunity the Leafs gave Tellqvist when they moved him to our hockey club.
"They didn't have room for him and he came to our team and, when you come back and play in the rink in the town you used to be in, that first game is really exciting. We knew Tellqvist was going to have a good game."
Danny Carcillo scored twice and Zbynek Michalek supplied the other Phoenix goal.
It was the fourth game in four nights for the Coyotes, 2-1-1.
"This has been a tough grind but they're young and they can handle it," said Gretzky.
Tony Salmelainen and Darcy Tucker replied for the Leafs, 1-1-1, front of an announced crowd of 18,959.
Toskala, wearing 35, blew his first save opportunity when Joel Perrault backhanded a pass towards the crease. Carcillo touched the puck at the side of the net. It looked like a harmless play but the puck slid through Toskala's legs at 3:24. A handful of spectators booed the 30-year-old Finn.
Salmelainen tied it at 4:46 by slapping in a bullet from the circle to the left of Tellqvist.
Salmelainen scored six goals in 57 NHL games with Chicago last season. The Blackhawks didn't re-sign the 26-year-old left-winger and the Leafs pounced.
On the second Phoenix goal, Toskala was on his knees even though the shot was taken from the blue-line. Zbynek's slap shot found the top of the net at 16:24 during a power play. Toskala was screened.
Carcillo made it 3-1 with the only goal of the second period. On a power play, Carcillo had his first shot stopped by was able to get his stick on the rebound and knock it off Toskala's left leg and into the net at 11:43.
Tellqvist got a leg out to stop a Matt Stajan shot on a breakaway later in the period.
Tucker made it 3-2 on a power play at 11:25 of the third when he swung at a flying puck. The Leafs put on a concerted push in the closing minutes but couldn't manage another.
Toronto had a 32-28 shots edge.
Tucker wasn't impressed with the Leafs' overall effort.
"We have to be better than we were in the first two periods," he said.
Meanwhile, Gretzky loves what he's seeing from Carcillo, a 22-year-old power forward who has more of a reputation for dropping the gloves than scoring goals. He took 311 minutes in penalties in 2005-2006 with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton AHL team when he was Pittsburgh property. Phoenix acquired the former Sarnia and Mississauga junior and a draft pick from the Penguins last February for Georges Laraque.
"That might become one of the best trades this organization has ever made, getting a second-round pick in this year's draft and getting a player of his heart and speed," said Gretzky.
"He's got good hands for a tough kid.
"He reminds me a little bit of a young Darcy Tucker. We're thrilled to have him."
Notes: Toronto is at Boston for a 4 p.m. ET game Saturday . . . The Coyotes improved to 2-1-1 while the Leafs slipped to 1-1-1 . . . Mats Sundin, Jason Blake and Nik Antropov were among players the Leafs didn't dress . . . Phoenix captain Shane Doan did not play . . . Toskala doesn't wear 35 for any particular reason. "I've been wearing it for 10 years," he said. "It was just given to me one year." . . Salmelainen, 26, won the Finnish scoring title in 2005-2006. He also had a cup of NHL coffee with Edmonton in 2003-2004. His father, Tommi Salmelainen, was the first Finn drafted by an NHL team, St. Louis back in 1969, but never played a big-league game . . . Kyle Wellwood, who missed a big chunk of last season with groin problems, is experiencing difficulties in the same area again. Maurice insists it's nothing serious. "It's almost like a concussion," he said in explaining why the Leafs will be cautious in how Wellwood is treated. "Because of the previous injury, we're going to do everything we can to make sure it doesn't turn on us." . . . The Leafs assigned defencemen Reid Cashman and Phil Oreskovic and forwards Brent Aubin and Alex Foster to the AHL Marlies on Thursday. . . . Tellqvist is benefitting from the tutelage of Coyotes goaltending coach Grant Fuhr. The Hall of Famer and former Edmonton Oiler great was at the game.