Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Vesa Strikes Back!

First off, if you haven't seen it yet, it's absolutely mandatory that you view the video below and introduce yourself to what the Monster can do:

Amazing. Unbelievable. Everything you dared to dream. The Monster is for real. A good assessment of his talents is found here:

"When I look at the leg extension involved in that save from the overhead camera it’s not the distance his right leg covers that’s amazing, but the angle at which it travels from his body to the post. Look at it and pause it. It’s insanity. He cuts off angles like I’ve really never seen before…his style is unique for sure. Sick."

But this post isn't about Jonas Gustavsson, as I'm sure many, if not most, of the others will be. Instead, I feel compelled to add some balance, particularly in regards to good ol' Mr. Dogshit, my dear friend, the Vesa.

I was as hard as anybody last season on Toskala. I wrote post after post after post demoralizing the Leafs' starting goaltender. And then I wrote another, and then another on top of that. And yet oddly, despite an uninspiring preseason, I find myself cheering for the Vesa again, and even , dare I say it, believing in him.

I'm not crazy. I do remember that Toskala did suck. I do remember his habit for soft goals and his terrible tendency to let them in off the first shot of the game. But did you know that in the Vesa's last 15 starts before surgery, the Leafs lost only twice in regulation? One of those losses was actually credited to Joseph who replaced Toskala and surrendered the winning goal, while the other was a game in which the Leafs were shutout 2-0 and Toskala made 32 saves.

7 wins. 2 losses. 6 overtime losses. 20 points of a possible 30. A 666. winning percentage and a .907 save percentage over that time.

He was on a roll and getting better. Toskala's last 5 games before surgery were his best performances of the year. All five went to overtime or a shoot-out:

Feb. 21, 2009. The Sundin game. A 3-2 shoot-out win for Vancouver. 35 saves for Toskala.

Feb. 22 and 25, 2009. Back to back coach-killing victories over the NY Rangers, one in overtime, one in shoot-out. 39 saves and 31 saves.

Feb. 26, 2009. A 5-4 shoot-out victory over the NY Islanders. 40 saves.

Mar. 3, 2009. A 3-2 overtime loss to New Jersey. 49 saves.

3-0-2. Eight of ten possible points. A .941 save percentage.


Despite a season with numbers no better then that horrible Raycrap, there's no comparison between the two goalies. For one thing:

He's maybe not up there with Todd Gill in terms of heart, and he's nowhere near Wendel Clark, but the Vesa kinda resembles Ian White in soul and spirit, and we saw the way he turned himself around with the right mentors and teammates.

It's actually a really good scenario right now. Either Gustavsson pushes Toskala to be a better goalie, or he just takes the starting role on his own merit. One thing is for certain: the Leafs' starting goaltender will be better then he was last season. Which reminds me - let's go back to one of those old posts and see what MF37 had to say at the time:

"Perhaps the best case scenario for the Leafs and Toskala is hanging on to him to platoon with Pogge, lessening his workload and hopefully repairing his game."

Mm-hmm. The Bitter Leaf Fan is a smart guy, obviously. Well, what did I say?

"...let him share the duties with Pogge until next year's deadline. With another year off his contract he might seem more attractive to other NHL teams, and with a decreased workload, it's not unfathomable that he might rebound and have a stellar year."



Who the fuck is Pogge?!


Okay, so the Vesa just gave up 7 goals tonight on 24 shots and the Leafs end up losing their last preseason game to Buffalo, 7-6. A brutal performance. Quite horrifying, really. Toskala's preseason save percentage is so depressing I can't be bothered looking it up. It's might be under .700. Doesn't matter what it is, he doesn't appear ready.

Does it change the way I feel? Not too much, but it has accelerated my interest. Toskala's time is up. If he starts on Thursday in the opener against Montreal (and I think he will), he has to perform right away. The pressure from the fans is on his shoulders like never before and tolerance for Raycrapian-style nights, like the one we just witnessed, will be non-existent.

So, it doesn't look good for the Vesa, but I'm still cheering for him anyways. I can't help it, I love rooting for the underdog, especially when they have their back up against the wall. It's a huge part of what makes me a devout Leafs fan, and right now, Toskala is the biggest underdog of all.

He's also winning the Larry Murphy race.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Top Twelve Toronto Maple Leafs Goaltending Tandems Since 1970

Special thanks for this post goes out to Vintage Leafs and Goalie Cards for providing most of the pictures below. The rest were found using Google Images.

#12. 1990-91 Peter Ing and Jeff Reese

Peter Ing 16-29-8 3.84
Jeff Reese 6-13-3 3.86

Okay, this tandem was pretty brutal and easy to forget about. The only pair that ranks lower in my mind is the awful combination of Raycroft and Tellqvist - who didn't make the list and come in dead last. Reese would eventually find a place for himself in Maple Leafs' lore by being included in the Gilmour-trade with Calgary. Peter Ing, meanwhile, disappeared into wikibscurity.

#11. 1982-83 Mike Palmateer and Michel Larocque

Mike Palmateer 21-23-7 3.99
Michel Larocque 3-8-11 4.89

These two make the list based on name-recognition and not their stats. Palmateer's comeback was less then sparkling, barely able to keep his goals-against under 4 through 51 decisions. "Bunny" Larocque, meanwhile, had a cool nickname and a cool helmet, but really wasn't a very good goaltender, able to win only 3 out of 22 decisions. Ouch. This pairing didn't last long as Larocque was traded to the Flyers for Rick St. Croix midway through the season.

#10. 1986-87 Ken Wregget and Allan Bester

Ken Wregget 22-28-3 3.97
Allan Bester 10-14-3 3.65

Despite their crummy statistics, this duo is often fondly remembered. The Leaf teams they played for were rock-bottom terrible and this tandem were often required to stand on their heads just to keep the games respectable. Both goalies, however, brought an attitude of "gamesmanship" to the ice, that sometimes produced stunning and spectacular saves at completely meaningless moments of games long out of reach. The stats above are actually from their best season together; the following year they would combine for an astonishing 20 wins and 47 losses.

#9. 1971-72 Bernie Parent and Jacques Plante

Bernie Parent 17-18-9 2.56
Jacques Plante 16-13-5 2.63

I'll be honest, I don't know much about this pair or this season. I recognize their names but I never saw them play in Leaf uniforms. Parent played one season as a back up and then one season as the Leafs' starting goaltender, with the 42-year old Plante as his back up. Parent would then jump to the newly formed WHA for a season before Toronto traded his rights back to the Flyers, where he made a name for himself as a premier goalie and immediately won 2 Stanley Cups. The Leafs had trouble in the early '70's finding a durable, dependable unit between the pipes, but for one year, this tandem turned in a combined winning record and kept their goals-against under 2.65.

#8. 1976-77 Mike Palmateer and Wayne Thomas
#7. 1975-76 Wayne Thomas and Gord McRae

#6. 1977-78 Mike Palmateer and Gord McRae


Mike Palmateer(77) 23-18-8 3.21
Wayne Thomas(77) 10-13-6 3.86

Wayne Thomas(76) 28-24-12 3.19
Gord McRae(76) 6-5-2 3.70

Mike Palmateer(78) 34-19-9 2.74
Gord McRae(78) 7-10-1 3.29

So, I'm cheating a little by doing the next 3 all in one paragraph. Positions 6, 7, and 8 on the list are the same 3 players in three different pair-sets over three consecutive years. In '76, Palmateer arrived on the scene with his infamous declaration that the Maple Leaf "hunt for a goaltender is over". His style was flashy and acrobatic and highly entertaining, making him instantly popular. He was young and talented and fun to watch. The previous year's starter, Wayne Thomas was demoted to back up. While Palmateers' numbers were indeed good, Thomas' dropped off significantly, the end result being that their combined numbers were no better then the combination of Thomas and McRae from the previous season. So, for the following year, McRae reclaimed his familiar role as back up, this time behind Palmateer. That final pairing seems to have been the best fit as the duo combined to top 40 wins in 77-78.

#5. 1992-93 Grant Fuhr and Felix Potvin

Grant Fuhr 25-15-7 2.50
Felix Potvin 13-9-4 3.14

The best duo we never knew we had. This is kind of a fantasy tandem 'cause they didn't really spend that much time together, but the Cat did get in there enough to prove himself and get comfortable, eventually giving Fletcher the confidence to deal Fuhr to Buffalo for the all-important Andreychuk. Even though Fuhr was traded mid-season, I included this pair because when you look at their combined numbers from this season, they're excellent, especially Fuhr's 2.50 goals-against.

#4. 2003-04 Eddie Belfour and Trevor Kidd

Eddie Belfour 34-19-6 2.13
Trevor Kidd 6-5-2 3.26

If this list was a personality competition, this combo would win hands down. I'm really surprised there weren't more fireworks when they were around, 'cause they seem like two really fun guys that know how to have a blast. Kidd and the Eagle worked well together for a couple of years, but I picked this season because both goalies have winning records combining for over 40 wins, and Belfour's goals-against is a staggering 2.13.

#3. 1999-2000 Curtis Joseph and Glenn Healy

Curtis Joseph 36-20-7 2.49
Glenn Healy 9-10-0 3.04

Hard to argue with the success of this pair. Healy was a capable back up to the superstar Cujo and their two personalities seemed to compliment each other very well. Indeed, Joseph's confidence and passion paired with Healy's maturity and poise produced a combined 45 wins, the highest total of any tandem on this list. It was a good fit for the Leafs, and for two players who took their roles seriously.

#2. 1993-94 Felix Potvin and Damien Rhodes

Felix Potvin 34-22-9 2.89
Damien Rhodes 9-7-3 2.62

My favourite Leaf goalie of all-time paired with my favourite back up goalie of all-time. The Cat was obviously amazing in his best years, and hugely popular, while Damien Rhodes was the quiet, capable, charming and unassuming back up who provided solid relief when called upon, the way you'd expect. Their combined record speaks for itself as both goaltenders produced winning records and goals-against under 3 while combining for over 40 wins. Finally, as far as I can recall, Rhodes is the only back up goalie who ever held a press conference and cried for the media after getting traded. Every kid in Toronto was dreaming of playing with Doug Gilmour and Felix Potvin, and I guess Damien Rhodes was no different.

#1. 2009-10 Vesa Toskala and Jonas Gustavsson
- - -

"What in the Bozak of Stajan is goin' on?! Have you lost your Stempniak?!" Maybe. Allow me to step out-to-lunch for a moment and PREDICT that this year's tandem is going to be the best we've seen in over three and a half decades. I must be a little loopy 'cause it makes me dizzy just thinking that. But before you go and decide to never read one of my posts ever again, let me spell out the criteria that they would need to achieve.

1) To get on the list at all, they only need to be better then Raycroft/Tellqvist and Ing/Reese.

2) Both goalies with goals-against under 3. I don't just think that's possible, I think it's a reasonable expectation for what might be a low-scoring, tight-checking team.

3) Both goalies with winning percentages. Not going to be easy, but if the Leafs are going to make the playoffs, it'll have to happen. I think it can, and I think they can do it.

And 4) Combined wins over 40. Thanks to the league's system of having a win for every game on the schedule and zero ties, this is actually easier to accomplish with a little help in the shoot-out and overtime. If they can achieve the 2nd and 3rd conditions, 40 wins is a done deal.

So, it's not really an honest list so much as a projection. Still, can you believe how much work I did just to make the point that I think the Vesa and the Monster are going to make a great tandem and have a great season? No, me neither. It took like three days.