Trial by fire for Pogge

STEVE BUFFERY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:54 AM ET

The Maple Leafs season is reaching the point where wins and losses don't matter as much as what deals general manager Brian Burke can make before the March 4 trade deadline and how some of the younger players, including rookie goaltender Justin Pogge, play in the final third of the schedule.

Burke has pledged to rebuild the Leafs into a contender and has suggested that no one on the 21-26-10 Leafs is untouchable. Toronto still is mathematically in the playoff picture, but realistically has very little chance of visiting the post-season.

As for Pogge, the 22-year-old goaltender started for the fourth time as a Leaf last night and his performance in a 4-1 loss to the Buffalo Sabres was mixed.

The Fort McMurray, Alta., native was shaky in the first period, giving up three goals on Buffalo's first eight shots. But the club's so-called goaltender-of-the-future (and no doubt he's getting sick of that moniker) settled down in the second and third periods and actually looked like an NHL calibre goaltender, though he now is 1-4 in his starts for Toronto.

ANOTHER START

He'll start again tomorrow night, back at the Air Canada Centre, against the Columbus Blue Jackets, as regular Leafs starter Vesa Toskala underwent an MRI yesterday after complaining about a sore hip, although the tests revealed that there is no structural damage. Still, the Finn won't be available to play until the return of Mats Sundin and the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday.

Pogge's start last night was his first at the ACC and, following the opening period, many of the 19,288 on hand gave him the Bronx cheer as he left the ice.

"It was just one of those things. Things don't go your way sometimes," Pogge said of his first-period performance. "I wasn't out to lunch on those goals. It was just bad bounces."

The loss also marked his second straight against the Sabres for Pogge and the second game in a row his teammates made a series of dumb mistakes that led to easy chances for Buffalo. Two of the first-period goals came off terrible giveaways, one by John Mitchell and the other by Jonas Frogren. The other, Buffalo's second goal by Daniel Paille, was the result of defenceman Pavel Kubina not being strong enough on his man in front. Still, the first goal, by Drew Stafford on a power play, and the third, by Matt Ellis, were both goals an NHL goaltender should have stopped.

At the other end of the ice, Buffalo goaltender Ryan Miller was solid, turning aside 27 of 28 shots, including 15 in the first period as the Leafs dominated play early.

"The difference in the game wasn't Justin Pogge, it was Ryan Miller," Toronto coach Ron Wilson said. "We were all over them (in the first) and he made six or seven huge saves."

Burke, meanwhile, has received a list of 10 teams to which defenceman Tomas Kaberle would be willing to be traded. There are reports that Burke had a deal in place with the Pittsburgh Penguins last week, a three-way trade that reportedly would have sent Nik Antropov to the Penguins for defenceman Ryan Whitney, with Atlanta star Ilya Kovalchuk ending up in Pittsburgh. Apparently, the deal fell through when Pittsburgh coach Michel Therrien was fired on the weekend.

Kubina scored his ninth goal of the season on a power play when he was set up in front by Jason Blake, making the score 3-1 for Buffalo after two periods. Stafford added his second of the night to complete the scoring.


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