TORONTO – Nearly a quarter of the way through the season, the Toronto Maple Leafs have played better than many expected.
That’s even more surprising when you consider that their starting goaltender has not.
Entering Monday night’s 3-2 loss to the Boston Bruins, Leafs netminder Vesa Toskala had a gaudy 3.24 goals-against average and a very suspect .878 save percentage.
Toronto was expected to struggle offensively this season, putting a great deal of pressure on Toskala’s shoulders. Yet, while the Leafs have held their own in the goal-scoring department, they’ve allowed a league-high 67 goals – most of which can be attributed to subpar play from Toskala.
“Of course I’m concerned,” said Leafs coach Ron Wilson, whose team fell behind 1-0 in the first period after Boston’s Phil Kessel beat Toskala with a softie. “They’re not good numbers, but the positive is we’ll have a day off (Tuesday) and we’ve got three days to get him to where he needs to be.
“I think first of all, he’s got to realize he hasn’t played well. It’s not what everybody else thinks, he’s got to come to that and work hard in practice.”
For his part, Toskala said he was fighting the puck a bit early in the game against Boston. However, the happy-go-lucky Finn isn’t getting too discouraged by his early-season performance.
“I don’t think numbers tell everything,” said Toskala, now in his second year with the Leafs following a trade with the San Jose Sharks on draft day 2007. “I think overall, I haven’t let in that many bad goals. You know, goals just happen and I never worry about those.”
This isn’t the first time Toskala has struggled to start the year. Last season, with everybody wondering how he would perform after finally getting the chance to be a No. 1 man, the 31-year-old didn’t immediately assert himself well.
However, things started to click around the mid-way point and Toskala was one of the league’s best netminders over the second half of the year.
Wilson, who also coached Toskala when he was splitting time with Evgeni Nabokov in San Jose, has a firm idea of what the goalie needs to do in order to re-discover his peak form.
“He’s deep in the net,” Wilson said. “He’s a small goalie, he better get out of the crease, I’ll tell you that. That’s basically what I see. That’s what we see when we’re watching the replays of some of the goals. But I’ve seen him do that in the past and he’s just got to get it out of his system right now.”
Toskala acknowledged he’d like to supply more of those momentum-building saves he consistently came up with last year. That would be especially helpful for a Leafs team that tends to fall behind early.
“Obviously I want to help the team more and make those big saves early in the game,” said Toskala, noting the entire team must get better defensively. “I feel great, so I really believe (the saves) will start coming.”
That’s also the sentiment expressed by alternate captain Nik Antropov, who said the team has full confidence in its starting netminder.
“He proved (himself) last year,” Antropov said. “I mean, he didn’t really have a lot to prove in San Jose because he was a backup, but I mean everybody knows he’s a great goalie. It’s just one of those things. He didn’t start last season really strong, too, but then he turned everything around and he was the best goalie, I guess, the second half.”