Leafs mirror their goaltending -- average

STEVE SIMMONS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 10:00 AM ET

The worse the Maple Leafs play, the easier it has become to doubt Andrew Raycroft.

That isn't necessarily his fault -- it's the position he happened to inherit in Toronto. Before him, Ed Belfour won games and playoff series he had no business winning. Before Belfour, Curtis Joseph did just about the same. Before Joseph, there was Felix Potvin.

The string has since been broken. The Maple Leafs are once again average, but their goaltending is no longer extraordinary despite the huge support from coach Paul Maurice.

"This guy's been good," he said of Raycroft.

And he has been good, at times. And he has been great, at times. And he has been terribly average, at times. Sometimes in the very same game.

"He was great for two periods last night," said Maurice., talking about the 5-2 loss to Atlanta on Tuesday. "So the question is, what happened to him in the third? Well, we happened to him in the third."

Andrew Raycroft doesn't think much about Tuesday night or last season or the year in which he starred for the Boston Bruins. He thinks about today, tries to forget about yesterday and the day before that.

"Amnesia," he said with a half-smile. "It's critical (for a goalie). You know, without it you cannot get much sleep. It is what it is. You go out and try your best and some nights they're going to go in."

When asked to compare where he is at in his third NHL season -- after going from rookie of the year to sophomore on the bench -- Raycroft pleaded no contest.

"That's amnesia again," he said. "I don't remember two years ago let alone last year. My first year was four years ago. Who even knows where I was at then compared to where I'm at now. I couldn't tell you."

Tonight, the Leafs play their 30th game of an 82-game season, in Boston of all places, where the Bruins gave up on Raycroft.

To date, there remains no definitive story on the former Bruin. He is still defining himself, still defining his place with this team and this city.

He is like the Leafs, neither exceptional nor terrible. He is like his team, slightly confounding. He makes phenomenal saves and then lets in goals that make you cringe.

He looks good from far -- but far from good.

The statistics tell you that much: Raycroft is 23rd in the NHL in goals against average, 28th in save percentage, tied for 12th with the most wins.

By comparison to the best, Martin Brodeur has faced one more shot than Raycroft and ranks ninth in goals against average, 13th in save percentage, second in wins.

By comparison to the best, Miikka Kiprusoff has faced six more shots in Calgary, ranks third in goals against average, second in save percentage, fourth in wins.

The statistics for Raycroft place him closer to the bottom of NHL starting goaltenders.

Last year in Boston, he was right at the bottom. This, at least, represents improvement for a team looking for improvement.

The Leafs have lost five games in a row, their first mini-crisis of a season that began with promise. The more you lose, the more a team gets dissected, internally and externally. The more Raycroft loses, the more vulnerable he appears.

"We can 'what if?' this to death," he said, talking about a string of bad luck and bad play by his team. "What if this? What if that? It doesn't matter. The reality is, we haven't won."

Another reality: Maurice isn't about to split his goaltending between Raycroft and J-S Aubin. He has faith in Raycroft, but not necessarily in Aubin, who played for him last season with the Marlies.

In nine seasons of coaching in the NHL, Maurice hasn't exactly been blessed in goal: His starters along the way have included Trevor Kidd and Sean Burke and Arturs Irbe and Kevin Weekes and Tom Barrasso. His backups have included Jamie Storr and Patrick DesRochers and Tyler Moss and Mark Fitzpatrick and Eric Fichaud and Mike Fountain and Jason Muzzati.

None of them will ever be confused for Belfour or Joseph.

They took non-contenders in Toronto and brought them to contention. There is no sign that Raycroft can do that yet. The jury is out: No verdict can be delivered this soon.


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