If you can name another city in the entire world where goalies are put under the microscope, dissected and criticized more often than in Toronto (or Montreal), please speak up. So easily and often labeled the scapegoat, Vesa Toskala was put through the meat grinder in October and November due to his inconsistency.
While the tough start was mainly due to a number of things other than his actual performance, one aspect widely overlooked was Paul Maurice’s choice to start Andrew Raycroft on opening night instead of the newly-acquired Finn. We all know the importance of a goalie’s confidence, so it was a detrimental decision to leave Toskala on the bench instead of the highly-maligned and unproven Raycroft. Toskala was acquired to solve the goalie problems, so not starting him showed him that the staff did not have a ton of confidence in his abilities. Thus a bad coaching decision helped lead to bad early-season results.
To say Toskala struggled out of the gate is an understatement, as his first 15 games were a living nightmare. He struggled to only a 6-7-2 record with a 3.25 goals-against average and only stopped 89.6% of the shots he faced. Since then, Toskala is 6-3-1 with a 2.71 GAA and a .906 save percentage.
So it took Toskala a few months to obtain that elusive comfort level in Toronto, which is no surprise when every shot, play and situation is analyzed by millions of people. But Toskala is wise and really experienced beyond his five-year NHL career, so it was only a matter of time before he took advantage of an opportunity to finally lead his new team.
So why all of a sudden did Toskala put together such a dominating streak (5-2-0, 1.72, .936) of allowing two goals or less in six straight games? It’s quite a run for a team that sits only one point out of last place in the Northeast Division, and he seems to be getting stronger rather than slowing down.
It all comes down to one word that incorporates everything visible in a surging goalie – demeanor. His appearance between the pipes, his on-ice conduct and his behavior are all visual signs of rising confidence. Mentally, Toskala is more focused than ever before and physically, the great play stems mainly from his body strength. He’s recovering very quickly and showing a ton of patience by staying in position and forcing the shooter to make the first move.
Another noticeable aspect of Toskala’s recent game is his numerous “minor” adjustments in order to position his body more efficiently in different situations. Using those quick feet to his advantage, Toskala takes “baby steps” at the top of his crease to move a few inches forward or to either side in order to adjust his positioning. Although this is an unnecessary movement for most NHL goaltenders, the reason it works so well for Toskala is due to the fact that he’s a small goaltender and benefits greatly from using his quickness to adjust on the fly. He’s still able to set himself for shots and when he combines it with a low, wider stance, he’s much more dynamic and responsive.
The 4-1 loss to Montreal on Saturday was a perfect example of his confidence and active footwork. Even though Toskala was victim of a cement-headed play by Hal Gill on a deflected goal in the first period and a couple other circumstantial goals on Hockey Night in Canada, he played well and battled hard to the very end. And he did it all while watching Carey Price do the same thing he always does against Toronto – dominate them. Actually, you can’t fault Toskala for any of the four goals against him, as Koivu was left wide open right in front of the net and then Andrei Kostitsyn had a shot from the point graze his body and redirect into the top corner of the net.
So those are the games that prove it’s obviously no small task playing goal in Toronto. But the bigger picture paints a more pristine landscape, for a smaller goaltender going on such a tremendous run proves that size is not everything and the Leafs need not push the panic button. At 5-foot-10 and 195 pounds, his quickness, agility and heart still allow him to dominate, which will be the case for goalies everywhere.
Speaking of playing in Toronto, Raycroft, the goalie who reminds me of a gimpy turtle in his bulky chest protector, is still trying to poke his head out from under a shell. Amazingly, a few teams have actually expressed interest in his services, as many teams are dealing with injuries or poor play from their starters. Thus, it’s no surprise that the Raycroft trade shenanigans have hit the papers.
According to TSN’s Darren Dreger, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay and Los Angeles have all inquired about Raycroft, but if anything happens it will have to be before the 19th or after the 27th due to a holiday roster freeze. Don’t be surprised if Raycroft stays in the East and ends up in Pittsburgh, as Marc-Andre Fleury is sidelined six weeks with a knee injury and Ty Conklin, Dany Sabourin’s backup, is a lost cause and the biggest joke in the goaltending society. Raycroft’s stock is falling faster than an avalanche, so his “starter” days are limited to what he does when Toskala is finally benched for a game.
Comment on Vesa Toskala or read Justin's blog here .