SUN Hockey Pool

Flames' trust in Toskala shows

Since his trade the Vesa Toskala has earned the respect of his Calgary Flames teammates. (Darren...

Since his trade the Vesa Toskala has earned the respect of his Calgary Flames teammates. (Darren Makowichuk/QMI AGENCY)

RANDY SPORTAK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:02 PM ET

In two starts for the Calgary Flames, Vesa Toskala has collected a pair of wins.

That’s not all he’s earned for the team which acquired him at the trade deadline.

He’s earned the faith and trust of his new teammates.

Hockey players have a different mindset when they have a goalie they believe will be there to cover their mistakes with the big saves. They play with more confidence, and it translates at both ends of the rink.

When team’s aren’t sure their netminder can stand tall, it wears on them. Just look at the Chicago Blackhawks of late.

Goalies know it, too. Just as they know they must earn the trust of their teammates.

And keep it.

You can see it in the way the Flames play in front of Toskala.

The players have unwavering confidence when No.-1 goalie Miikka Kiprusoff is between the pipes.

They haven’t had the same faith with any other goalie on this team since Roman Turek’s hot run to start the 2001-02 season — which dissipated along with their playoff hopes later that spring, as well as his NHL days.

Toskala has quickly established his value to the franchise.

“He’s played really well for us and we’ve needed him to play well,” said left winger Eric Nystrom. “Kipper can’t play every single game and for him to come in and win games for us is huge. We’re going to need him down the stretch, and he’s done a great job.”

As hard as Curtis McElhinney worked in practice to hone his game, it’s easy to figure out why starts for the netminder traded to Anaheim for Toskala were few and far between.

Wins were even rarer.

Toskala has been given two starts. He responded with wins against Minnesota and Colorado Wednesday night.

In three appearances with the Flames — which includes a perfect two-period stint of mop-up duty in last weekend’s 3-1 loss to the Vancouver Canucks — Toskala has a 1.52 goals-against average and .944 save percentage.

You can see the fun he’s having.

“The biggest thing is I’m pretty happy now. They’ve treated me well here,” he said.

Curiously, McElhinney never received the offensive support Toskala has in his starting assignments. In both games Toskala was given the green light, the Flames scored early and staked him to a two-goal lead before the first period was finished.

Still, as hard as it may be for Toronto Maple Leafs followers to believe, Toskala has delivered for Calgary.

In turn, his teammates believe he’ll do the job night in and night out.

You can sense it.

“Sure you can,” head coach Brent Sutter said. “They have confidence in both of the guys. That’s an important thing for your team. Vesa has been a starter in the National Hockey League, and games he’s played, he’s played well.”

For trivia buffs, Toskala’s two wins moved him into a tie for 24th on the Flames all-time list, matching Marc D’Amour and Steve Guennette.

One more, and he’ll join Curtis Joseph, Philippe Sauve and Andrei Trefilov. McElhinney finished his Flames career with four.

The day after Toskala collected the win with a 32-save performance in the 3-2 game against Colorado, a couple of quetions were brought up:

• When was the last time a goalie other than Kiprusoff stopped more than 30 shots in a win?

• When was the last time the Flames won with Kiprusoff on bench and Jarome Iginla held off the scoresheet?

The answers don’t require delving like Indiana Jones into ancient history. McElhinney stopped 38 shots to beat Dallas Nov. 4. He also backstopped Calgary to a 2-1 win over Edmonton on New Year’s Eve in a game Iginla didn’t record a point.


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