Justin Pogge promises he will treat tonight's game like any of his three previous NHL starts, but the Maple Leafs prospect couldn't wipe the smile off his face at the prospect of playing his first regular season game at the Air Canada Centre.
The 22-year-old goaltender has been given the nod in net for tonight's game against the Buffalo Sabres as the next test in his development as the potential goaltender of the future for the Leafs.
"I'm starting to adjust to the pace a little bit better every time I come up," Pogge said at today's morning skate. "But I still have a long way to go.
"I don't worry about too much stuff until it happens. If I get a little nervous before hand, we'll see. You don't want to get too fired up but you want to relax as well. You want to find balance."
You can bet the Leafs will put up a stronger defensive effort in front of Pogge given that he is playing the same team that shelled the Leafs 5-0 in his previous start. In that contest in Buffalo, the Leafs got into penalty trouble all night and did a poor job in front of Toskala all night. After the game, Leafs coach Wilson suggested the score could have been a lot worse had it not been for some strong play by Pogge.
Wilson suggested that this won't be the only game Pogge plays this week either. The Leafs play host to Columbus on Thursday and to Mats Sundin and the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday.
"He's probably going to play another game maybe even two games this week," Wilson said. "All I can tell you is he's playing tonight. We have a plan. I'm not going to go over what that plan is but it's not dependent on Justin Pogge playing a great game tonight."
Wilson expects that there may be some nerves for Pogge tonight, but that in his third call-up with the team the coach expects he will handle the pressure just fine.
"Just relax and play the way he is capable of playing," Wilson said when asked about how Pogge should deal with the atmosphere of his first start. "Hopefully we will play well in front of him, enough for him to relax."
Pogge said he is feeling the benefits of spending time practicing with the team this week. He joined the team Monday and will remain at least through until Sunday.
"Everyone can shoot in this league and putting the pucks on net," Pogge said. "It's the National Hockey League."
The Sabres, meanwhile, will come to the ACC with a sense of urgency. They are coming off a 3-0 loss at home to Carolina, one of the teams they are battling for the final playoff spots in the Eastern Conference.
Tonight's game is a 7 p.m. puck drop to fit into broadcaster TSN's schedule.