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Righting the Ship

Righting the rearguard is the first step back toward success, says mapleleafs.com's Mike Ulmer.

Monday, 17.11.2008 / 11:20 PM / Mike Ulmer's Blog
By Mike Ulmer  - Mapleleafs.com commentator
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Righting the Ship
Game Recap | Box Score | Photo Gallery
: Pre-Game | Game in 6 | Post | Wilson | Toskala
: Antropov | Blake | Hagman | White | Thomas | Chara

The 2008-2009 Maple Leafs have always been a pretty-well engineered house of cards.

Long on try but short on mature front-line talent, the Leafs need, and have gotten a lot of elements in forging a competitive club.

But the first pillar of any success is goaltending and in the wake of Monday’s 3-2 loss to Boston, coach Ron Wilson agreed the netminding hasn’t been up to standard.

With Vesa Toskala making 17 of the Leafs' 19 starts, the club sits 27th in goals against.

The Finnish netminder looked terrible on the Bruins first goal, a shot from Phil Kessel that went right through him and put the Bruins up 1-0. “Obviously stoppable,” was Wilson’s summation.

“Of course I’m concerned,” Wilson said when asked about Toskala’s stats. “They’re not good numbers.”

The Leafs will not practice Tuesday. After that, Wilson has plans for Toskala, who played marvelously for him in San Jose.

“We’ve got three days to get him where he needs to be. First of all, he’s got to realize he hasn’t played well and work hard in practice. Seeing that we don’t play until Saturday, he’ll have plenty of time to work on a couple of areas of the game.”

Wilson insists the problem isn’t complicated.

“He’s deep in the net. He’s a small goalie. He’d better get out of the crease, I’ll tell you that. I’ve seen him do that in the past and he’s just got to get it out of his system.”

Toskala insists that he is not tired, despite the workload, but there have been lamentable moments. Timing, as they say in comedy, is everything and it isn’t just the goals but the context.

Take Saturday night Vancouver. The Leafs opened the game by firing 10 shots at Roberto Luongo during a lengthy power play. Toskala gave up a goal on the Canucks’ first shot, to Kyle Wellwood of all people. The Leafs outshot Vancouver 30-15, yet lost 4-2.

Down 2-1 Monday, the Maple Leafs generated tons of pressure on Boston goalie Tim Thomas.  Toskala’s inability to stop Michael Ryder’s well-placed shot with Ryder well covered by Pavel Demitra was the difference last night.

The Kessel shot, Toskala conceded, “was a bad goal. I should make the save on that.”

Toskala doesn’t much rattle but admitted to fighting the puck in the second period. “As the game went on, I started to feel good.”

The Leafs, at 7-8-4 are a losing team for the first time since they lost to Anaheim in the sixth game of the season,  but there were bright spots. The line of Nikolai Kulemin, Nik Hagman and Mikhail Grabovski was again terrific last night. It was Grabovski who brought the Leafs to within one at 3-2 near the midway point of the third. The goal, an opportunistic bit of work after a Hagman rush was stopped, was his ninth of the season.

The Leafs outshot their opponents, again. It marked the 15th time in 19 games they have outshot the other guys.  You may find consolation in that stat. Then again, maybe not.

Matt Hunwick scored the other Boston goal. Jason Blake collected his third for the Leafs.

Toronto plays the Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday. The evening has been set aside for the raising of Wendel Clark’s number 17 to the ACC rafters.

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