Perils of a workhorse

Leafs goalie Andrew Raycroft may be tired and underperforming due to the increased workload of...

Leafs goalie Andrew Raycroft may be tired and underperforming due to the increased workload of starting the last 25 games. (Sun File/Alex Urosevic)

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:02 AM ET

As the starts pile up, the pads get heavier, the shoulders ache a bit more and the bags under the eyes balloon.

Sound familiar, Andrew Raycroft?

Having started a career-high 25 consecutive games, Raycroft has been peppered with questions about being fatigued. It's a natural assumption, given that he has been yanked in his past two appearances, losses to division rivals Montreal and Buffalo.

Devils workhorse Martin Brodeur understands what Raycroft is experiencing.

"If you've never gone through a grind like that, it's hard," Brodeur said last night from New Jersey, where his Devils play host to Raycroft's Leafs tomorrow night. "A couple of losses and suddenly you get asked about being tired all the time. It starts getting into your head.

"It's more difficult in a big market like Toronto, where the (media scrutiny) is much more intense."

Having once made 44 consecutive regular-season starts, Brodeur said the key is to not alter your game.

"When you're playing all the time and start losing, it takes its toll, both mentally and physically. You start trying to do things differently and changing your habits, and that's not good."

Brodeur is en route to his 10th season of 70-plus appearances, thereby making him an expert on the subject.

Raycroft, meanwhile, is still learning. With just less than a quarter of the schedule remaining, he is only two appearances shy of his NHL career high of 57 and is being relied on to carry the load between the pipes for the Leafs down the stretch.

Having received the hook in the Leafs' 6-1 loss to the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday in front of a booing home crowd, Raycroft admitted the entire team was weary.

"I think we were tired," he said. "We've played a lot of hockey, a lot of meaningful hockey. We're in a playoff race, and when you are not playing well, people get down on you. That's when you try to do too much.

"I have a lot of confidence in myself and in my teammates. We've played way too well to get down on ourselves."

With his team having just completed a span of five games in eight days, coach Paul Maurice gave his club a much-needed day off yesterday. They will congregate for a mid-morning practice at Lakeshore Lions Arena today before winging down to New Jersey.

"I think with Andrew, he has shown this season that he can withstand (adversity) and come back to play his best hockey," Maurice said. "He is just going to have to do it again.

"The guys had a chance to be away from the rink and recharge their batteries. Now we move ahead and plan on playing our best hockey this weekend."


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