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Leafs are content with Andrew Raycroft's goaltending early in NHL season

So far, what they've got leans towards the former. It's early yet, but the 26-year-old native of Belleville, Ont., has been solid, and head coach Paul Maurice practically gushes over his play.

"I think he's been outstanding," Maurice said Monday. "We're at a point in our year in learning our systems and, with the defence injuries we've had, that the quality of shots (Raycroft has faced) have been higher than what we hope will be the case in January.

"He's played incredibly well. On his average night, he's been real good. Other than that, he's been exceptional."

GM John Ferguson gave up the Leafs' first 2005 draft pick, Finnish goalie Tuukka Rask, to get Raycroft, who Boston gave up on last spring. It's looking like a bad deal for the Bruins now. Hannu Toivonen is 2-3-0 with a 3.72 GAA and .884 save percentage, and backup Tim Thomas is 0-1-1 with a 4.40 GAA and .866 save percentage for the Bruins.

Raycroft is 4-2-2 with a 2.43 goals-against average and a .915 save percentage. The numbers are in the top third of NHL goaltending statistics. His save percentage is superior to those of playoff MVP Cam Ward (.905), and Vezina Trophy winners Miikka Kiprusoff (.901) and Martin Brodeur (.895).

No, goaltending has not been a problem for the Leafs. Lax checking at times, power-play inefficiency and shootout failures are the chief woes.

With four wins, two losses in regulation time and three shootout losses, Toronto has 11 of a possible 18 points. That's a 100-point season. Easy to understand why everybody was in such a good mood after practice Monday.

"We're a couple of games over .500, we're playing well and we've been getting better," said Raycroft. "We're coming together as a team.

"It's coming together. Everyone is pretty excited right now about where we're at. We'll just have to keep it rolling."

The Bruins' might have been hasty in their decision on Raycroft. After all, he was handicapped by knee injuries last season and being in top form seemed to be a constant struggle.

The Bruins' one-time goalie of the future - he started his first NHL game when he was 20, a win over the Florida Panthers in Boston - is Toronto's goalie of the present, and he's rebounded nicely from his disappointing 2005-2006 campaign.

"It seems like I've been around a long time, in my head anyways," said Raycroft. "Hopefully, I've got six or seven good seasons left in me."

The former Kingston junior star loves stopping pucks back in his home province.

"The Leafs are adored here, and being part of that is great." he said.

Toronto split its first two games against Ottawa, and they play the Senators again Tuesday night at Air Canada Centre. The teams clash again Thursday in Ottawa.

"The importance of games within the (Northeast) division, you realize right away," said centre Mike Peca. "The points matter more.

"These are the games you've got to gear up for and find a way to get points because as the season goes on (the points) are tougher to get. Toronto-Montreal, Toronto-Ottawa - the fans get into these games. They're a playoff atmosphere, and you want to show you're ready to play them."

Ottawa is 3-4-0 but is coming of an 8-1 romp over New Jersey.

"We know what they did last game," said Maurice. "They're feeling good about themselves now. We'll have our hands full."

Meanwhile, rookie defencemen Ian White continues to evolve into a dependable NHL blue-liner.

"The first couple of days in any job you're going to be nervous," he said of a spotty start to his season. "You're feeling things out and stuff. It feels good to be improving."

Maurice usually uses the five-foot-nine White with six-foot-seven Hal Gill.

"He's a big, stay-at-home defenceman so that gives me leeway to try a few things," said White. "He just sits back and cleans up my messes."

White and Brendan Bell, another rookie, get high marks from Maurice.

"It feels like they definitely belong," said Maurice.

Notes: Injuries continue to plague D Carlo Colaiacovo. After missing the NHL camp after a fainting spell, Colaiacovo returned to action last week with the AHL Marlies, and promptly broke a finger . . . Maurice doesn't pre-plan who he'll have take shots during shootouts. He prefers to select men who have been hot during regulation time of the game . . . Forward combinations aren't set in stone yet. "We're still early in the learning curve for me as to where players fit," said Maurice.



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