Raycroft To Start Tonight For Avs
Upon returning home still winless after the first three games of the season, Avalanche players were not confronted by an angry mob of cameras and probing questions.
In all, four media members roamed the dressing room Wednesday, and the quiet atmosphere was welcomed by goalie Andrew Raycroft, an Ontario native who spent the past two seasons playing in hockey-centric Toronto.
Under the same circumstances in Toronto - or Calgary, Edmonton, Montreal or Vancouver, for that matter - the post-practice scene would have been much different.
"Panic would be an understatement, I think. It would be all-out chaos," Raycroft said. "That's the market. If you lose one game, it's all-out chaos. Fortunately, I'm in a better place now."
Raycroft's place tonight will be between the pipes when he makes his Avalanche debut against the Philadelphia Flyers.
Coach Tony Granato said the decision to start Raycroft was not a reflection on struggling No. 1 goalie Peter Budaj but part of a predetermined schedule.
"We want to get (Raycroft) in one game a week," Granato said. "Last year, he didn't play a lot of hockey. We want to get him some rhythm. . . . To get him in a game early in the year was the thinking, and (tonight) was the game we had targeted for him to play."
The timing also will give Budaj a chance to regroup after allowing 13 goals on 74 shots in his first three games. In four preseason appearances, Budaj allowed only six goals on 94 shots.
"Hopefully, we'll win (tonight) and go from there," Budaj said. "If I get called on in the game afterwards, I'll be ready. I'll fight through the obstacles and it's going to get better."
After serving as the backup to Jose Theodore for the majority of last season, Budaj inherited the top job when Theodore signed as a free agent with Washington during the summer.
Though three games is a small sampling, the No. 1 position could be up for grabs again if Raycroft plays well. The 28-year-old went 37-25-9 with a 2.99 goals- against average for Toronto in 2006-07 but was bought out of his contract after struggling last season.
"It's always fun to start the season and get going again. I've put in a lot of work the last month and a half, two months, so I'm looking forward to it paying off," Raycroft said. "I feel great about where I am with my game. I'm looking forward to going in there, and I should do very well."
At this point, the bar has not been set at Olympic heights.
Though the Avalanche has been in position to win in each of its three games, penalty killing and goaltending are the obvious shortcomings. Colorado gave up three power-play goals Tuesday night against Calgary and is an NHL-worst 7-for-12 in killing penalties.
The hockey adage says the goaltender is the most important player in short-handed situations, but not everyone is ready to place the blame squarely on Budaj.
"It's a tough job. They're the last one to be there before the puck goes in and they're the first one to be pointed the finger at," Avalanche forward Ian Laperriere said. "A lot of people forget to look at what happened in front of them before that."
Budaj spent time with goaltending coach Jeff Hackett on Wednesday and stayed on the ice long after practice was over, but he said he does not plan major changes to his approach and technique.
"Obviously, I'm not happy with the results," he said. "I'm going to learn from the mistakes and I'm going to work hard in practice. Whenever I get a chance to play I'll be back and I'll be better. . . . It's hard, but nobody said it's going to be easy."
If Raycroft makes it look easy tonight, there always is the possibility of another start Saturday in Dallas. For now, Granato is keeping the faith in Budaj, with the intention of playing him 55 to 60 games this season.
"Peter came off an outstanding training camp. He looked ready," Granato said. "He is going to be an elite goalie in our league. He's going to be a guy who's going to play a lot of hockey for us and win us a lot of games."