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Canadian Press
1/7/2007 4:48:25 PM


TORONTO (CP) - Since arriving in an off-season trade, Andrew Raycroft has not been shy about saying just how much he loves being part of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Unfortunately for him, that hasn't yet translated into much love from those who support the team.

Raycroft was given a sarcastic cheer Saturday when he made an easy save shortly after allowing Buffalo's fourth goal - a shot by Ales Kotalik on a solo rush that Raycroft should have stopped.

Coach Paul Maurice indicated as much after the Sabres finished off a 4-3 win over Toronto.

''One in four weren't great,'' Maurice said of the goals allowed by Raycroft.

That said, the coach has been pleased with his goalie's play of late.

Several key injuries have made Raycroft's performance even more important and he was a positive factor in a pair of victories over Boston last week.

''The games that we've won, he's been a big part of it,'' said Maurice. ''We will put pressure on our goaltender more right now to be good.

''I really think in the last two weeks he has been very good.''

Midway through his first season in Toronto, the home fans have yet to warm to their new No. 1.

Raycroft's 3.02 goals-against average and .896 save percentage leaves him behind several goalies, including Florida's Ed Belfour, the man he replaced in Toronto.

It also took Belfour some time to become a fan favourite here. He was booed during his first pre-season after signing with the team in 2002 but soon won over the home fans.

Before that, Curtis Joseph was beloved during his four seasons in Toronto as he became known for acrobatic saves and big game performances.

It hasn't come as easily for Raycroft, which befuddles his current teammates.

''That's just stupid,'' forward Matt Stajan said of the booing. ''That's the way Toronto is. He's been there all year for us, made a lot of big saves. (Fans) can do whatever they want.''

Added defenceman Pavel Kubina: ''That's not right. Razor, he's been good for us the whole year. He's a good goaltender, a young goaltender. Every night he gives us a chance to win hockey games.''

The fans' frustration might be linked to the team's mediocrity at Air Canada Centre this year. Toronto is 10-10-2-1 at home after losing just 12 times on home ice last season.

They're also right on the playoff bubble in the Eastern Conference and need every possible point to avoid missing the post-season for a second straight year.

The Leafs are well aware of their situation and are looking forward to games against Carolina on Tuesday, Buffalo on Thursday and Vancouver on Saturday.

''This is a big week for us coming up,'' said forward Alex Steen, who has four goals in his past two games. ''We've got to refocus and keep competing.''

The loss to Buffalo was especially frustrating for the Toronto players because they truly believed they outplayed the Eastern Conference's best team.

The Leafs outshot the Sabres and John Pohl had Buffalo goalie Martin Biron down and out late in the game, but his shot at a tying goal hit the side of the net.

In three games against the Sabres this season, Toronto is 1-2 but has had a chance to win each one.

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Hmm... typical.

I'll just say that as a fan that made no secret about disagreeing on the trade of Tuuka Rask for Andrew Raycroft, that I do not at all put any blame on the slide that the Leafs had had on him.

Very little has been his fault in my opinion, seeing as how time and time again after every loose assignment in front of the net, every breakway that occurred, all the 2-on-1's and 3-on-2's.

Yes, some of those are bound to happen any night, but the extenet that the Toronto Maple Leafs have let it happen is almost sad to watch, and I will not blame Raycroft for that.

Has he let in a few weak ones? Sure. Last night's GWG is one... but what about the other ones?

The screened shots, the tip-ins from his own d-men and such.

The back-to-back losses to Ottawa sticks out the most, as he played very well in the 1st, and average in the 2nd game... yet they ended in blowouts.

It seems like the team is falling back into the habit of having the goalies bail the team out, which I can't say is a surprise.

Raycroft, for the most part, has been quite solid for the team. Last week's loss to the Senators was an example of his play. Unfortunately, somehow the loss was his fault because of the weak OT goal, but what about the GTG? Ever Kelly, the player who scored it was shocked and said he expected 3 guys on him in that stage of the game (down 1 goal with over 2 minutes left to play).

Yet it's his fault? Why? Because he's not liked as much as a McCabe, or an Ian White, both being the cause of many goals.

It's things like that make me shake my head. I think the fans in the build should start watching the whole game for once.
 
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