Toronto Maple Leafs Fans Should Boo Themselves, Not Justin Pogge

Mike BoultbeeContributor IFebruary 18, 2009

In spite of 42 years of futility, four straight seasons without playoffs, and some horrible management decisions, it takes a lot for me to admit that I am ashamed to call myself a Leafs fan. After last night, however, this is one of those times.

In a 4-1 losing effort to the Buffalo Sabres, the 19,000 faithful in the Air Canada Centre, as they have been known to do before, turned their anger on a scapegoat.

This time, the target was rookie goaltender Justin Pogge, starting in his fourth NHL game and first in Toronto.

Since Pogge's amazing, unbelievable debut on Dec. 22 in Atlanta (a 6-2 win over the Thrashers), he has put up less than desirable numbers. In his three starts since, the Leafs have lost 6-1 to Minnesota, as well as losing two lopsided affairs to the Sabres, 5-0 and 4-1. So yes, his stats are not good at all; but is this Pogge's fault?

Anyone who has watched any of the games Pogge has started will see a shocking display of mediocrity on the part of the Leafs defense.

In the 6-1 loss to the Wild, at least three or four of Minnesota's goals were caused by major defensive lapses, leaving the other team with an open net and Pogge with next to no chance of stopping the puck.

The 5-0 loss to the Sabres was a team effort, and anyone who saw the game would have noticed Pogge was the only Leafs player on the ice that played even halfway decently.

And while last night's loss saw Pogge give up a weak goal, he also made some particularly strong saves in front of a yet again invisible defense.

The second thing people need to remember is that Pogge has played four games in the NHL. FOUR. Let us not forget Martin Brodeur had a 3.35 GAA and .882 SV% after his first four games in the NHL.

Not to compare Pogge to Brodeur at all, but it ought to be pointed out that fans should not be so quick to judge a goalie who has come into a tough situation.

But this is quite typical of some Leaf fans, the ones who overvalue their prospects and expect them to be franchise saviours.

Fans are getting impatient for Pogge's development, and expect him to be of Luongo-calibre immediately. Thus, they boo him when he simply can't meet their unrealistic expectations.

And he doesn't deserve it.

Pogge is not the saviour of this team, at least right now. He's not ready for a full-time NHL position. But is he as bad as his numbers indicate? Not with the team, with the defense, he has in front of him that seems to give him little help every night.

And when this same team in front of him has only scored two goals in his last three starts, it certainly makes matters worse. Fans cannot expect instant success from a rookie goaltender on a rebuilding team; it's just contradictory.

So, instead of booing Pogge, perhaps the fans ought to boo themselves for their poor conduct and unrealistic expectations. They are more part of the problem with this franchise than Pogge is.

And I hope he proves as much against Columbus on Thursday or Vancouver on Saturday.