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Rookie Maple Leafs goaltender Pogge impresses coach despite loss

TORONTO - Justin Pogge suffered another loss in the Toronto Maple Leafs' goal, but he still did enough to impress his coach.

"He played very well, he was solid in goal," Toronto coach Ron Wilson said after the rookie goaltender stopped 31 shots in a 4-3 shootout loss to the visiting Columbus Blue Jackets. "He gave us a chance to win the game."

Despite the loss, Pogge showed some progress. He has had a roller-coaster introduction to the NHL this season; overall, he has a 1-3-1 record with a 3.94 goals-against average and .855 save percentage. But Wilson and GM Brian Burke have indicated they want to take a look at Pogge and see if he has any NHL potential.

"We're trying to get Pogge emotionally ready to play in a pressure-filled market," Wilson said. "There's no rush to get him in (the NHL permanently). I don't understand why there's a rushHe should be successful in the AHL first, among his peers."

Then why call him up at all?

"We have to make plans," WIlson said. "Who's going to be the backup goalie next year? "We're going to go through tougher times than this, I can promise you. And we're not going to throw a young goalie into the slaughter."

Pogge a 22-year-old native of Fort McMurray, Alta., who was drafted 90th overall in 2004, easily won his NHL debut in Atlanta back on Dec. 22 when the Leafs dumped the Thrashers 6-2. But in subsequent recalls from the AHL, he was on the wrong side of a 6-1 loss at Minnesota on Jan. 27; a 5-0 defeat Buffalo on Feb. 4; and, a 4-1 loss to the visiting Sabres on Tuesday.

"Getting the chance to go back-to-back, it gets you right back in the fire," said Pogge, who made consecutive NHL starts for the first time. "You don't leave (and return to the American Hockey League) and think about your game, you just get right back into another one. I really appreciate the opportunity to get that chance."

Pogge appeared to play with more confidence against Columbus, leaving his crease several times to play the puck, and he made a key save in the dying seconds of the third period to force overtime. It's expected that he'll be returned to the Toronto Marlies in the AHL so he can continue to play regularly.

Pogge, a third-year pro, is 19-14-4 with a 2.75 goals-against average and .894 save percentage in the AHL this season.

"We're trying to teach Pogge to keep it simple," Wilson said. "Earlier in the season, in training camp, he was trying to make too many complicated plays. Now, he's playing a more simple game.

"And he's been good at keeping it simple. He's big, he's athletic, he gets behind the net. He handles the puck better than (Vesa) Toskala or (Curtis) Joseph."

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