Leaning On The Finn
The Maple Leafs are riding Vesa Toskala and riding him hard.
But, particularly with 15th place in the Eastern Conference now secured, does it make sense to do so?
At least one emailer, Paul McDougall of New York City, doesn't think so. Moreover, he thinks its simply a survival technique for head coach Paul Maurice as he desperately tries to hang on to his job.
Toskala, with chronic groin problems, made his 15th start in 16 games last night against the injury-ravaged and slumping Islanders in a crushing 5-4 defeat. Since coming back against Anaheim Jan. 9th in relief of Andrew Raycroft, Toskala has started every game except a Jan. 20 date at New Jersey.
And the Leafs are no further ahead over that period of time. In fact, after being passed by Tampa last night, they're dead last in the east, and just four points ahead of 30th place L.A. for dead last in the entire NHL.
Quite clearly, Toskala is the No. 1 goalie with this team, so that's not in dispute. With two years after this season left on his contract, he will be needed to both carry the team and to help apprentice Justin Pogge.
Toskala has been mostly very good, while Raycroft hasn't won a game since November, so its not hard to see why Maurice keeps calling the Finn's number. Moreover, San Jose is playing Evgeny Nabokov pretty much every minute, while the likes of Marty Brodeur, Miikka Kiprusoff and Roberto Luongo are shouldering heavy loads.
Why not Toskala?
Well, there is the groin issue. As well, winning games now is meaningless, and arguably counter-productive as the Leafs move into prime position in the Steven Stamkos Cup.
No one's saying don't play Toskala. But every single game, including back-to-backers?
Shouldn't Raycroft have been in last night against the Islanders? If there's no confidence at all in him, then bring up Pogge for an NHL start, or Scott Clemmensen.
In fact, if I'm Cliff Fletcher, Pogge is up for Saturday night's game against the Boston and he's starting, not just watching as was in the case in that silly west coast exercise several weeks back.
Toskala, quite simply, is too valuable right now for the Leafs to risk over-playing him and injuring his tender groin muscles.
How about two out of every three games? Six out of every 10 the rest of the way? That would make sense. He's No. 1, but this team will need him to be rested, healthy and ready to go in October, not now.
Riding the Finn hard now won't help this team move forward.