Can Justin Pogge Make It in the Pros?

Dino MoriAnalyst IMarch 29, 2009

TORONTO - FEBRUARY 19: Justin Pogge #29 of the Toronto Maple Leafs during game action against the Columbus Blue Jackets on February 19, 2009 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Dave Abel/Getty Images)

Can we conclude, after half a dozen NHL starts, that Maple Leafs rookie net-minder Justin Pogge just isn't ready for the likes of Tomas Vanek, Mark Recchi, and the umpteen other NHL players who have beaten him between the pipes?

On the surface it seems so.

After five separate call-ups by Toronto, Pogge sports an ugly 1-4-1 record, a ghastly goals against average of 4.35, as well as a feeble save percentage of .832.

Not quality numbers to say the least.

If former Senators net-minder Martin Gerber, who the Leafs picked up at the deadline, had not received a three-game suspension for bumping referee Mike Leggo, then rifling a puck in the direction of the aforementioned zebra—then it would be fair to say that Pogge would still be languishing in the AHL.

Pogge gave up six goals on just 20 shots against the Bruins on Saturday before mercifully being pulled by coach Ron Wilson.  He was called upon by Wilson the previous night when an equally inept Curtis Joseph couldn't stop a beach ball and was yanked after surrendering four goals on just nine shots.

Pogge allowed just the one goal on 15 shots, but he failed to cover a seemingly harmless wrist shot off the stick of Buffalo's Jochen Hecht, which allowed the Sabres' Paul Gaustad to score the insurance marker in a 5-3 Buffalo victory.

The goal snuffed out a furious comeback by the Maple Leafs, which at one point trailed 4-0, and had cut the deficit to 4-3 midway through the third period.

Last night, any attempts by the Maple Leafs to gain momentum against a rusty Bruins team were thwarted by Pogge's inability to come up with a timely save.

Not since his NHL debut against a porous Atlanta Thrashers team has Pogge tasted victory. His 19-save performance in Dixie was followed up by road losses in Minnesota and in Buffalo, as well as home defeats to the Sabres and the Columbus Blue Jackets

Now, in Pogge's defence, the soon-to-be 23-year-old and former World Canadian Junior Gold Medal goalie is trying to establish himself in arguably one of the toughest markets in the NHL.

It's not like Steve Mason, another WJC star and starting net-minder of the playoff bound Columbus Blue Jackets, who plays in relative obscurity.

Mason doesn't have to contend with as many microphones after a game as Pogge does.

That being said, you only get so many opportunities to prove you belong in the pros, and so far Pogge isn't making the most of them.

Several months back, the Leafs' braintrust felt it was important to bring Pogge along slowly. They handpicked several games during the course of the season in which to bring him up from the farm and start him.

However, a so-so performance in Minnesota—six goals on 21 shots, followed by a shaky first period at home against Buffalo—three goals on eight shots—left GM Brian Burke and coach Wilson wondering whether they were making the right decision.

Maybe the best thing for Pogge right now is to hope that the Marlies qualify for the postseason in the AHL, to get to play him in some meaningful games, and most importantly, to restore some confidence in what is currently one fragile goalie.