Struggling or not, Leafs keep faith in Toskala

STEVE BUFFERY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:11 AM ET

WASHINGTON -- The Finn is back in.

Maple Leafs head coach Ron Wilson said that he will start Vesa Toskala tonight against the Southeast Division-leading Washington Capitals at the Verizon Center, despite the fact that his No.1 netminder has not exactly stood on his head in his past two starts.

After being pulled from the game in an 8-2 beating at the hands of the Dallas Stars last Tuesday, Toskala looked shaky again in a 4-1 defeat against the lowly New York Islanders on Friday, prompting speculation that Wilson might start rookie Justin Pogge tonight.

But Pogge may be heading back to the AHL's Toronto Marlies today and, anyway, Wilson believes that most of the goals Toskala had given up during Toronto's two-game losing streak were not his fault, and that he needs to get his confidence back.

"Vesa's our No.1 goalie and we have to stick with him and help him find his game again," Wilson said yesterday. "So, we have to dig in there and concentrate for 60 minutes and he'll be okay."

Despite the fact that his numbers (3.32 goals against average and .881 save percantage) are significantly down from last year, Toskala believes that his game is just fine. Toskala, however, does seem to be fighting the puck at times this season.

After being pulled when he allowed seven goals on 27 shots against Dallas, the Air Canada Centre crowd began booing him. Wilson insisted yesterday that he pulled Toskala to send a message to his team, and was not blaming the Finn for the one-sided score.

"You don't remove a goalie for one bad goal. Sometimes you remove a goalie when you're just trying to change the momentum of a game," Wison said. "It wasn't his fault (the Dallas loss). It was kind of a mercy pull. And in that game I thought the fans were being very unfair. He didn't really have a chance. The shot clock at that point was 30-7 or eight and the fans want to blame the goalie. That's not fair at all. He has played a lot of good games for us.

"But I think Vesa's a pretty, strong emotional guy and I don't really think that bothers him," Wilson added, when asked if he is worried that Toskala is losing confidence.That bothers me probably more than it bothers Vesa."

For his part, Toskala said he has put both the Dallas and Islanders games behind him, and the jeers at the ACC.

"I'm able to laugh (off) some of that stuff," he said. "I don't think I feel highs and lows that strongly, so I just keep doing my job.

"We are in a process here, we're rebuilding, and tough nights happen sometimes," the goalie continued. "But still, I think we're moving in the right direction."

When asked if he takes solace from the fact Wilson expressed confidence in him yesterday, Toskala replied: "I don't talk too much with the coach and I don't read newspapers, so I don't know what he's talking about."

As for Pogge, the 22-year-old rookie goaltender said he has learned a lot being up with the Leafs in the past week, despite the fact that he has appeared in only one game, winning his NHL debut, 6-2 against the Atlanta Thrashers.

"I think I have a little more confidence now," he said. "And going back down, you just want to work harder to get back up here."

The Leafs certainly will have to play much better tonight against the 22-11-3 Capitals.

"We've got to play sound hockey in the first period and not get behind the 8-ball, and we need a big save, when it's appropriate, obviously," Wilson said.


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