Toskala preps for Pens

LANCE HORNBY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 2:29 PM ET

As the Maple Leafs split their dressing room into a more well defined parent team and farm club, Vesa Toskala can't wait for his first start in goal tonight against Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Toronto crammed 32 skaters into its main quarters at the Air Canada Centre, while Marlies head coach Greg Gilbert is now assigned another group of 20-odd players at the Ricoh Coliseum. The Leafs have seven NHL exhibition games remaining to get down to 23 players by Oct. 9.

For now, juniors such as defenceman Luke Schenn and forward Chris DiDomenico and minor league goalie Justin Pogge and forwards Robbie Earl, Jeremy Williams, John Mitchell and Jaime Sifers remain with the Leafs to play in weekend tilts against Pittsburgh and Buffalo.

Wilson will also tinker with his first line, taking Alexei Ponikarovsky off the wing with Mikhail Grabovski and Nik Antropov and replacing him with Nikolai Kulemin as he did in Pittsburgh on Wednesday.

Ponikarovsky will play the right side with centre Alex Steen and Niklas Hagman.

"I know Sidney is playing tonight and it's good that Chris and Jaime will see a player of that magnitude," coach Ron Wilson said.

Toskala is in better circumstances than when he arrived last autumn. Unfamiliar with the team, the city, the expectations and cast into an unexpected battle for the No, 1 job with Andrew Raycroft, it took the Finn a couple of months to get acclimatized.

"That was the first time I had been traded and it was very different at the start of camp," Toskala said after this morning's skate. "Now I've played a year here and I know what's going on. I know I can play here and the comfort level is different. I just have to get myself ready for the season."

Toskala has been re-united with Wilson, who had the pleasant problem of deciding between Toskala and top-notch Evgeni Nabokov every game as coach in San Jose. Nabokov was the one that Sharks' general manager Doug Wilson eventually settled on and Toskala was dealt to the Leafs.

"It was only one year being away from Ron and it's the same kind of routines with him." Toskala said. "We were together four years in San Jose and nothing has really changed."

Wilson agreed they are getting along famously again after the year's seperation.

"There is no difference in our relationship," Wilson said. "At one point he was No. 1 in San Jose as well and played all the games in the playoffs one year. We were trying to maintain asset value with both Vesa and Nabby. Doug made the best move for the franchise."

Toskala can expect more than 60 games here. The creative Pens, who beat the Leafs 3-2 on Wednesday, are a test for Toskala as well as the kids.

"It's a good team for sure and Iím just trying to find a nice rhythm and get comfortable and go from there," Toskala said.

Wilson will play Toskala in four pre-season games.

"Tonight, here Monday against St. Louis, the game in Detroit (next Friday) and the home game against Columbus (a week Sunday that wraps up the team's nine exhibitions)," Wilson said.

"Justin will play tomorrow (in Buffalo) and Curtis Joseph in St. Louis (Wednesday) and the home game against Detroit (a week Saturday)."

Added to the Marlie group yesterday were 13 players: forwards Brent Aubin, Darryl Boyce, Stefano Giliati, Kyle Rogers, Dan Rudisuela, Greg Scott, Tim Stapleton, defencemen Scott Langdon, Phil Oreskovic, Juha Uotila, and goaltenders Adam Munro, Michael Ouzas and James Reimer.


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