Kicking bad habits

ROB LONGLEY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 7:49 AM ET

Vesa Toskala is consistent in his easy analysis of the fine line between good goaltending and bad.

"Lately the puck has been hitting me," the Maple Leafs goalie said after yesterday's practice at Lakeshore Lions Arena. "Hopefully it stays that way."

Lately, it has been.

In the past four games -- three of them Leafs victories -- Toskala has surrendered just seven goals, by far his stingiest stretch of the season. As a result, the Leafs take a season-high, three-game winning streak into Boston tonight with Toskala's save percentage (.891) and goals against average (3.01) are inching towards respectability.

"It has been a lot of hard work and some focus on some of the bad habits that had crept in a bit," Leafs coach Ron Wilson said yesterday. "He's gotten back to being at the top of his crease and not being overly aggressive and staying cool and calm.

"I think we've done a really good job in front of him, limiting scoring opportunities and shots as well. But his focus has been where we need it."

With better team defence, the Leafs have been playing more the way Wilson would have scripted it coming out of training camp. The plan was to be a hard-working team that emphasized defensive responsibility rather than getting caught in scoring derbies.

During one stretch in late October and early November, the Leafs were involved in eight consecutive games in which at least seven goals combined. But when the Leafs allow two goals or less, the results are predictable: Toskala has a record of 10-1-3.

"It has been a little bit of everything," Leafs defenceman Mike Van Ryn said of the improved results in their own end. "Our penalty kill has been better. Obviously Vesa has played very well.

"It has only been a couple of games, but we have maybe found a little bit of chemistry on our penalty kill. It was an area that we had to improve on. Guys have been paying more attention. With penalty killing, that's what it comes down to. It's just hard work."

As for hard work, Toskala isn't shy of a heavy load. All signs point to him getting his 10th consecutive start when the Leafs face the Bruins tonight.

"I'm not worried about his workload," Wilson said. "Just ask him. I don't think he's going to tell you he's feeling tired. He wants to play every game."


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