Shots on goalie are up

STEVE BUFFERY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:25 AM ET

Maple Leafs management is playing 'Bad Cop, Bad Cop' with goaltender Vesa Toskala.

Two days after Brian Burke slammed the team's starting goaltender for not practising hard enough and for coming through with too many "clunkers" this season, head coach Ron Wilson jumped into the fray yesterday, agreeing with his general manager's assessment.

"I would have expected Vesa to have much better numbers than he has to this point. He's been inconsistent at best," Wilson said yesterday, prior to the Leafs departing for Montreal, where they will meet the Canadiens tonight at the Bell Centre. "A team in our situation requires solid efforts from our goalie every single night. And that necessarily hasn't been the case."

Toskala came into this season with a .910 career save percentage and a goals-against average of 2.49. But in 44 games this season, those numbers are .883 and 3.34, respectively.

Still, the second-year Leaf was taken aback yesterday when presented with Burke's rather harsh observations.

"I don't know," Toskala said. "I just focus on my game and I don't want to change anything. My goal is the same: Try to give the team a chance to win every night when I'm playing."

Toskala did take umbrage, however, with Burke's comments that he hasn't practised hard enough. The goalie suggested that he hasn't been able to practise at 100% at times this season because of groin and hip injuries.

"I guess sometimes, when you don't feel 100%, you have to pace yourself a little bit in practice to get through the games," he said. "But the main thing is I feel good now and I can give everything in practice."

Asked if he has been hurt more than he or the organization have let on this season, Toskala answered: "We can discuss this after the season."

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For his part, Wilson suggested that, if Toskala has been in pain, he should be more up-front with the coaching staff about it.

"At the end of the day, Vesa tells me he can play. And that's the bottom line," Wilson said. "If the goalie tells you he can play, he is going to play."

Wilson played down the hype concerning tonight's Leafs-Canadiens tilt and specifically, the so-called feud between Mikhail Grabovski of the Leafs and Montreal's Sergei Kostitsyn, two natives of Belarus who don't like each other. The two had to be restrained the previous time the teams met on Jan. 8 in Montreal, a 6-2 Habs victory. A frustrated Grabovski later shoved a linesman and was suspended for three games.

"It's the Leafs and the Canadiens," Wilson said. "There should be enough there that you (don't) have to make up a battle between two guys who had issues in other games. That's a bit of a sideshow.

"Do we have to sell tickets for this game? Are the ticket sales down in Montreal? Are television ratings down that we have to go with the Grabovski-Kostitsyn brawl? That's just a little thing that you guys (the media) are having fun with. We're just preparing for the game."


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