Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson pulled a 180 Thursday and pulled his starting goaltender, Vesa Toskala, out from under the bus.
Wilson has been criticized from throwing some of his players under the aforementioned bus since arriving in Toronto last year; that is, when they have not played well. But when asked about Toskala’s supposed “curt” mood of recent days, Wilson rushed to the goaltender’s defence.
“Well if (it’s) basically implied that he’s not a NHL No. 1 goalie every day, 40 or 50 times (by the media), it comes to the point where, yes, you would be curt,” said Wilson, who confirmed that the struggling Toskala would start Saturday night at the Air Canada Centre against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
“You get sick and tired of hearing the same questions every day. It’s no different if I asked you every day, ‘Do you think you’re a good writer? Do you think you’re worthy?’ After a while you’d get a little curt answering the same question.”
The Sword of Damocles, perhaps with Toronto Marlies sticker on the side, is hanging over Toskala’s head. After a poor season last year, apparently the result of injuries, Toskala arrived at camp this fall supposedly revitalized. But in two regular season appearances this season, the Finnish goaltender has struggled, posting a 4.94 goals against average and .800 save percentage.
Perhaps for that very reason — the fact that he’s only played in two games and is being questioned about his play — Toskala has barely been able to contain his frustration.
“It’s only three games into the season and I got the point in the first game, so I lost one game,” Toskala said yesterday after practice. “I’m not going to win every game this year.”
The 0-2-1 Leafs outshot the Montreal Canadiens, 46-27, in the season opener last week but lost 4-3 in overtime, with Habs’ goaltender Carey Price receiving the laurels and Toskala the darts.
Toskala started game two against the Washington Capitals and was pulled after one period for rookie Jonas Gustavsson after allowing three goals on the first seven shots. Gustavsson then got the start in game three against the Ottawa Senators, to which Toskala was not thrilled.
“He has to accept that if the other guy plays better, he’ll play,” Wilson said. “And that’s the kind of competition you want. You don’t want a goalie just assuming that no matter the results, or how a person plays, he’s going to be in there. (On the other hand) I don’t want (Toskala) accepting it (when he doesn’t play). I want him to play better, that’s all.”
But now with Gustavsson on the injured reserve list with a groin pull, Toskala will start tomorrow against the defending Stanley Cup champions and Monday in New York against the Rangers — if he plays well against the Pens. If not, journeyman Joey MacDonald, who was called up from the Marlies yesterday, may get the start in the Big Apple.
“Vesa’s our No.1 goalie and he’ll play until further notice,” Wilson said. “I was probably going to split Vesa and Jonas for the next three games, but more than likely you’ll see Vesa play all three games now. He’s capable of doing it and he feels great. This is an opportunity to really take charge right now without looking over his shoulder.”