Steve McKichan read some season previews and noted that many felt goaltender Andrew Raycroft would have to get back to his Calder Trophy form of 2003-04 if the Maple Leafs had any hope of going to the playoffs.
But McKichan, the Leafs goaltending coach, really has little interest to seeing Raycroft get back to that level.
"I want him to be become 20%-30% better than he was then," McKichan said yesterday. "There is a great base to work with. I don't care about how great he is one day or how bad he might have been. He has to stay in the moment, and so far he has been outstanding."
If one of the main tenets of being a National Hockey League goaltender is giving his club a chance to win in every game, Raycroft came through in a 5-4 overtime win against the Calgary Flames on Saturday night. Though he later acknowledged he was "not very good,"Raycroft made key saves when his club required them. Case in point came late in the second period, when Raycroft made a large pad save on a drive by the Flames' Chuck Kobasew. The Leafs took the puck down the ice and seconds later Mats Sundin beat Miikka Kiprusoff for his second goal of the game.
A major desire of the 26-year-old Raycroft was to get past the difficult year he had in Boston in 2005-06. Though this season remains in the infancy stages and there is lots of hockey to be played, Raycroft is on the right track. Through Saturday's NHL games, he was eighth with a 1.94 goals-against average and was sixth with a .936 save percentage.
In 30 games for the Bruins last season, Raycroft finished at 3.71 and .879.
Raycroft's performances will be more crucial given the Leafs are playing with a little more openness to their games than people expected. If he is there to make the saves, the Leafs naturally will be more comfortable in taking chances.
Raycroft was beaming after Saturday's victory, despite his frank description of his own play.
"Believe me, I am the happiest guy in here right now," Raycroft said a massive media throng surrounded captain Mats Sundin a few feet away. "If I can find ways to win those when I don't play my absolute best, that is a good sign. It's a long year and you are never going to play your best every night.
"I'm happy where I am right now for sure."
And McKichan likes where Raycroft is as well. There is plenty to work on -- opponents are going high on Raycroft and have scored a few that way, and puckhandling is an issue -- but, as McKichan said, Raycroft wants to improve.
"He has come into such a big market and has handled it well," McKichan said. "He seeks feedback and wants to learn. It's inherent in him that when he is great he does not get too happy and he is not he does not get bent out of shape. That's important."