Raycroft's value plummeting with his GAA

LANCE HORNBY, TORONTO SUN

, Last Updated: 12:17 PM ET

As they say in TV production slang, the optics were terrible for Maple Leafs goalie Andrew Raycroft last night.

The cameras replayed the first-period, back-door goal by Blair Betts from several agonizing angles, just the kind of softie his antagonists in the crowd were waiting to pounce on.

Then came a blitz of New York Rangers' power-play goals, leaving the goaltender feeling like the road hog New York taxis were bearing down on him at rush hour.

When coach Paul Maurice mercifully lifted him midway through the game, already having faced a game's worth 29 shots, the Air Canada Centre exploded in the mock cheering Raycroft has heard with regularity since last year. Broadcast cameras caught him hunched over on the bench and coming up with a world weary gaze.

Then they trained on general manager John Ferguson, his attempt at stoicism betrayed by a slow shaking of his head. And when Scott Clemmensen was announced as a replacement to a round of applause, Raycroft had chosen that moment to throw a towel over his head to dry a soggy mane.

"That first goal sucked," Raycroft said as he faced the music afterward. "We didn't recover and that set the tone for the night."

The power plays certainly factored in Raycroft's third loss in as many games as the Leafs' de facto No. 1, yet his week's performance raises some red flags about Toronto's goaltending depth.

You can forgive the rust on Long Island when the Leafs found out Vesa Toskala had experienced a sore groin during the holidays and was put on short-term injured reserve. There were four goals-against in Philadelphia the next night, but he did make 30 saves. But with a day off to get re-acclimated, it was essential to bring his "A" game last night.

Maurice had fended off the wolves at his morning news conference reminding the media Raycroft was good enough to play 72 games last year and tie a team record with 37 wins.

"He's due," the coach said of the long wait Raycroft had endured since another first-period clunker in Phoenix on Nov. 24.

Toskala should be back in a few days, but Raycroft is not only putting his value as an insurance policy in doubt, he's making it hard for Ferguson to cook up any trade interest. Should the GM attempt to parlay Raycroft into a skater for a playoff run at the deadline, he won't get far with a guy whose goals-against average is climbing toward 4.00.

Meanwhile, the Leafs have lost an astounding number of games to clubs who've used their backups, such as the Rangers' Steve Valiquette last night.

Marlie callup Clemmensen's last NHL action was Game 82 of last year for the New Jersey Devils, when they lost a shootout to Wade Dubielewicz of the Islanders, which eliminated the Leafs. Dubielewicz, who beat the Leafs earlier that week, came off the bench Wednesday when Rick Dipietro was hurt and toppled Toronto yet again.

There were no shortage of Leafs trying to shift blame from Raycroft on to themselves and even Valiquette went to bat for his ex-Sudbury junior teammate.

"I gave up five in my last game," the Etobicoke-born Valiquette volunteered "He just had a tough night and that is not the way he plays. It's just about getting back to the basics."

But Raycroft and Clemmensen had a long session with Leafs goalie coach Steve McKichan on Friday, no doubt trying to cut down on Raycroft's rebounds among other issues.

Of course, the growing number of losses for the Leafs, whether it's the fault of the goalies, shoddy team defence or a pop-gun offence, make the post-season dream a little dimmer.

"We didn't give Andrew a fair chance," winger Alex Steen said. "He did his best to help us out and we didn't help him. He has been great (in the dressing room), the best guy ever."

But he'll have to bring that persona to the ice to restore his place on the Leafs.


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