For Raycroft, the goal is clear

TERRY KOSHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 12:30 PM ET

Nothing will count in the standings for the Maple Leafs until next week but for goalie Andrew Raycroft, it starts tonight.

Anointed as the No. 1 netminder for Toronto after being acquired on draft day from the Boston Bruins, Raycroft will start in Detroit against the Red Wings in the Leafs' penultimate pre-season game and in all likelihood will be in goal tomorrow evening against the Wings at the Air Canada Centre in the pre-season finale.

"I had the whole week to work in practice and figure we might as well give the body a shock right at the end," the 26-year-old said. "There's a 95% chance the body will be fine and I will be in both games."

With much of the talk centring this week on the back-up battle between Jean-Sebastien Aubin and Mikael Tellqvist, Raycroft has become the forgotten man. That is hours away from changing.

Mentally, Raycroft said he is prepared to start making people ask about his tough season with the Bruins in 2005-06. Along the way, Raycroft, the Calder Trophy winner in 2003-04, lost the starter's role and eventually became a non-issue in Beantown.

Raycroft's arrival in Toronto marks a new direction for the organization on a few fronts. Not often do the Leafs put stock in such a young goalie to steer them back toward respectability. Raycroft is following two men, Ed Belfour and Curtis Joseph, who had extensive resumes when they joined the Leafs.

But does Raycroft feel more heat because he finds himself in that situation?

"To a point," Raycroft said. "The one thing that is kind of a positive is it's not like following Patrick Roy in Montreal. It's not like those guys were here for their whole careers. Eddie did a lot here, but at the same time he was not here for 15 or 20 years. It makes a difference. But you are trying to fill those footsteps, and they are big footsteps."

Raycroft will be just one of many Leafs regulars under the microscope tonight. Coach Paul Maurice will have captain Mats Sundin between Alexei Ponikarovsky and Kyle Wellwood. If the line succeeds, it will be together on opening night Wednesday when the Ottawa Senators visit Toronto.

"I like that Alexei is big and strong and can control the puck in the offensive zone," Maurice said. "With Mats we need somebody so he is not the only guy battling down low. And Kyle has the ability to think and handle the puck a little bit like Mats."

All of the Leafs who have been nursing minor aches -- Tomas Kaberle, Pavel Kubina, Michael Peca, Darcy Tucker and Wellwood -- are good to go. Kaberle, who had some groin trouble, will play in his first pre-season game tonight.

"It will be good to feel the puck and play with the boys a bit," Kaberle said. "Without playing (the opener) would be tougher for me."


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