The Toronto Maple Leafs returned to the Air Canada Centre tonight to face the Boston Bruins in their first game back from a Western Canadian road trip. They dominated the B's completely, as they outshot them, outworked them, and clearly outplayed them for most of the game. The Bruins seemed to be on their heels for the vast majority of the 2nd and 3rd periods as the Maple Leafs dictated puck possession. So, of course, it is only fitting that the Leafs wound up losing this game. 3-2 was the final score and the Leafs dropped yet another game that they deserved to win.
Starting in net once again for the Maple Leafs was Andrew "The Razor" Raycroft. Er...I mean Vesa Toskala. Please forgive my mistake - it's getting harder and harder to tell the difference. Tonight did nothing to help that, as Toskala allowed 3 goals on 22 shots overall. No matter how you slice it, that is a pretty abysmal number. The troubling part is, only one of the goals scored against him truly looked like he had no chance of stopping. The other two were questionable at best. This isn't just my opinion however as Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson was quoted as calling the first goal scored by Phil Kessel "an easy stop." Another one scored by Michael Ryder in the 2nd period looked harmless as well. If Toskala manages to stop just one of these "softies" then the game would have seen overtime and the Maple Leafs would have had a shot at winning it. Instead, he cost his team 2 points when the Leafs did everything they could to win this game.
Now, I'm not saying this loss is 100% Vesa's fault but it is time to stop making excuses. If our goaltending had been even marginally better the Toronto Maple Leafs likely would have been the victors tonight as well as on Saturday night in Vancouver and a handful of other games I won't mention. Now, one can say the defense is not helping him and the Leafs need to do a better job in their own end. This is a rather popular excuse and I have heard it many times this year. So let's take a look at how little help Toskala is receiving from the Maple Leafs defense shall we?
One statistic that immediately stands out for me is that the Leafs are currently allowing an average of 26.6 shots on goal per game. If you don't feel like looking it up that is the 3rd lowest average in the league. That means the Maple Leafs are doing a pretty good job of limiting the amount of shots the opposition has and let's face it - 26 shots isn't a whole lot for an NHL goalie to face on any given night. Lately though, the Leafs have allowed even fewer than that average in their last couple of games. They only gave up 22 shots tonight against Boston. Even more impressive though was that they held Vancouver to a meager 15 shots on Saturday. Does that sound like a defense not doing its job? Somewhere in those 15 shots however, Toskala managed to allow 4 goals. The only way that number can even be remotely acceptable is if the Leafs decided to start Stevie Wonder in net.
Another measure of how well a defense is playing is how many pucks they throw their bodies in front of. Blocking shots has been a gospel that Ron Wilson has preached to the Maple Leafs since he first arrived in Toronto. His reasoning with this is simple: if your team is blocking shots, the goalie is forced to make fewer saves thus making his job easier. How have the Leafs fared in this department? They currently sit 3rd in the NHL with 153 blocked shots. Clearly Wilson's message has gotten through and this team has been fearlessly blocking shots since the beginning of the season. Here's the depressing part though: through all this Vesa Toskala still manages a dismal 3.23 GAA and an .878 save percentage. I'm sorry but you can't pin that one on the defense. The numbers don't lie, and Kubina, Finger, Schenn and company have all done their jobs as well as Wilson expected them too.
Clearly, the Toronto Maple Leafs have a problem. Or rather, Vesa Toskala has one. It is time to stop making excuses and start holding the guilty party accountable. Jason Blake and Matt Stajan have been benched for poor play and its high time Toskala was held to the same standard. I think watching a few games from the press box would help to wake him up. The Leafs may not have many options in goal but they have to do something. I have advocated calling up Pogge in a previous post but even the senior citizen Curtis Joseph would be an upgrade over Vesa's horrible play right now. Actually, just about anybody would be better at the moment. Perhaps Ian White could continue shuffling positions and try his hand at goalie? I'm willing to bet he could deflect pucks with that God awful mustache of his and post a better save percentage than Toskala. The Toronto Maple Leafs need to find some way to shake him up.