Andrew Raycroft walked out of Bridgestone Arena Tuesday night with a 7-3-0 record and the fourth best save percentage in the NHL at .927. That’s probably not what he was figuring
when he signed a two-way contract with the Stars in the summer and took on the challenge of beating out Brent Krahn for the back-up goalie spot on the Stars.
Then again, it might have been exactly what Raycroft was thinking. At age 30, Raycroft is on his fifth NHL team and fourth in the last four seasons. He knows he has something to
prove, and he’s not afraid of that. So when he made 44 saves against Nashville and helped will the Stars to a 4-2 win Tuesday, he wore a smile of confidence and not cockiness.
``It does feel like I’m in the groove, but I also know how hard I’ve worked to get to where I am,’’ Raycroft said. ``I’m not just throwing my stick on the ice and having the results
just happen. I’ve put a lot of work into my game, and I’m just getting to the point now where I have full confidence in it. It’s taken a while, and I am totally comfortable with the team and with where I am in the team, but I know full well that if you let
your guard down for just a second, it can go the other way fast.’’
You’re not going to get any of his teammates to believe that’s a possibility, but it is a mental game some great athletes need. Stephane Robidas still looks at the NHL and thinks
he could be a healthy scratch on any given night. He respects the game that much, and he sees a similar respect in Raycroft.
``That…guy…is…incredible,’’ Robidas said, emphasizing each word to get his point across. ``I don’t think enough people know how good
he is. I don’t think enough people know what he has done in his career. He won the Calder Trophy. He has the record for most wins in a season with the Toronto Maple Leafs. He is a great, great goalie.’’
Robidas continued: ``He’s been put in tough situations all year and he has answered the bell every time. That’s just unbelievable. The way he carries himself. He comes to the rink,
he’s happy, he puts the work in. If he’s playing, he’s prepared. If he’s not playing he’s prepared. He’s just a great teammate.’’
And the Stars are benefitting from that. They’re benefitting from the fact that they are atop the Pacific Division and are avoiding any prolonged losing streaks, and they are benefitting
because they don’t have to push Kari Lehtonen if they don’t want to. Lehtonen proved in recent weeks that he can maintain his back and fight through hiccups in the season. But, Raycroft has proved that he can take up the slack if Lehtonen is out for an extended
Stars coach Marc Crawford said that if a light schedule in January allows him to play Lehtonen more, he probably will
``He’s come back great from the situation he’s had with his back, and I think he needs the games, so there is a chance we play him more,’’ Crawford said.
Then again, Raycroft may find a way to change those plans. He has been fantastic when challenged, and he has earned the respect of his teammates. Those are things that force coaches
to sit up and take notice.
``It’s not like we have an issue. I’ll play when they tell me to play,’’ Raycroft said. ``You just want to keep building and keep playing well whenever you get a chance. That’s
all I’m really trying to do here. It’s not a contest or anything, I just want to do my part to help this team win.’’
And that’s what he did Tuesday.
``I think he inspired us tonight,’’ Robidas said. ``He and Kari both are so calm in net, and they do so much to help us stay calm. We’re sitting here after the second period and
we know we’ve given up 34 shots, and we look at each other, and its 1-1. We are completely in this game, because it’s only 1-1 and we have a chance to win it if we just put together a good third period. That’s incredible. It could have been 3 or 4 to nothing.’’
_ Crawford called Robidas the ``first star of the game.'' He played 27:01, had five hits and four blocked shots. Among those blocks were two shots on goal in the first period when
Raycroft mishandled the puck on a power play. Had Nashville taken a 1-0 lead just 2:30 into the game on a short-handed goal, it could have really changed the game.
``I thought Robidas was actually the first star tonight,'' Crawford said. ``He was terrific _ he blocked a lot of shots, he cleaned up a lot of the problems that we had, especially
those two on our power play that he made two great saves on.''
_ Over the last 18 games, the Stars goalies have a combined 2.17 GAA and .931 save percentage.
Mark Fistric and Krys Barch each scored their first goal of the season. Fistric last scored Oct. 22, 2009 (a stretch of 81 games). Barch last scored Feb. 19, 2009 (a stretch of 95 games).
_ The Stars won 29-of-55 faceofss (53 percent). Steve Ott won 10-of-13 (77 percent).
_ Adam Burish was credited with five blocked shots.
_ Nashville forward Patric Hornqvist was credited with 14 shots on goal.
_ Aaron Gagnon played seven minutes, was a plus-1 and won 3-of-4 faceoffs.