November 5, 2007
Toskala's run quiets controversy
By LANCE HORNBY -- Sun Media
Listen to the cacophony on Bay St. today and you will detect honking horns, the bustle inside City Hall and the clank of the falling American dollar on the market floor.
But for the first time since August, you won't hear about a Maple Leafs goaltending controversy at No. 40.
Vesa Toskala has closed debate with a six-game run that ended Saturday night with a 32-save, 3-2 win in Montreal. During that two-week span, the Finn has won three, lost two in regulation and another in a shootout. The lone blemish was a blowout loss to the Washington Capitals that saw him lifted for Andrew Raycroft, but he atoned by keeping the Leafs in Friday's 3-2 loss against New Jersey, then truly earned his keep with 26 saves in the last two periods against the Habs.
"There were some hectic moments in that game, but Vesa really stepped up," defenceman Hal Gill said. "He allowed us to play that simple road game we've been talking about (a recent 3-1 record away from the Air Canada Centre)."
Coach Paul Maurice can be as secretive about the starter as he wants in the next couple of days, but count on Toskala playing tomorrow in Ottawa, where he lost a 3-2 decision to the conference champs last month in his Toronto debut.
The only downside of Toskala's success for Gill is the relegation of his good friend and Boston Bruin buddy Raycroft to the end of the bench. Raycroft won't play until Friday in Buffalo at the earliest, the first of back-to-back games for the team.
"The media makes more of this story than we do," Gill claimed. "Vesa is on his game and we're happy for him. But Andrew is a great guy to back him up."
With due respect to Raycroft for committing himself to getting back in the good books of teammates and fans with a summer of dedicated technical work, Toskala is driving the bus now.
But there is no strut to Toskala, no haughty comeback towards those who questioned his value last month.
Where the San Jose Sharks had only one or two beat writers at practice, Toskala wears a permanent look of bemusement in his daily dealings with the Toronto media, still amazed about the attention accorded him.
He now owns a record of 5-5-1 and has improved his save percentage to .893, close to the NHL equivalent of the Mendoza Line. He looks more like the force for change that general manager John Ferguson envisioned when he gave up two high draft picks for him and Mark Bell and bumped Toskala's salary up a few million starting next year.
"It's up to the coach who plays net, but Vesa has played great and that means we can pay more attention to details on our defensive game," winger Alexei Ponikarovsky said. "We can turn some pucks over and off we go."
The Canadiens presented a major test for Toskala, coming into Saturday with guns blazing and their special teams in mid-season form.
"I think we needed him to be (at his best)," Maurice said. "You don't realize how close they were to going in. I'm really happy with the way he's playing."