Like It Or Not, Here Raycroft Comes

Update: 12:37 PM PST: Rick Rypien and Sami Salo will play tonight. Shane O'Brien will sit out. Poor OB-wan. Please don't put a mic in front of his face today or tonight. He can't be all that pleased right now. Also, in a bit of a shocking move, Aaron Rome will play on the 4th line with Tanner Glass and Rick Rypien, as Darcy Hordichuk will sit. Is the Hordichuk era almost over now? It's beginning to look like it.

Thanks to Beantown Canuck and Section 312 for the heads up in the FanPost section.

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Sami Salo and Rick Rypien will be game time decisions tonight, but if you had to choose between the two, it's a safe most would prefer Salo back on the blueline because, with Andrew Raycroft set to start his first Vancouver game, the defense will need to be a rock. A pretty big rock.

If you stare at the numbers, Raycroft isn't just bad, he damn near sets the bar for awful. We took a look at Raycroft this summer and, at the time, we could at best recognize a goalie who used to have skill but whether the game got away from him (as in Toronto) or he just became positionally lazy and stopped caring (as in Colorado) we don't know. In his best season with the Leafs, he ranked 36th in save percentage (.894) and 32nd in GAA. With the Avs, he let in four goals twelve times in 31 appearances. The counterpoint is he was playing behind some weak and heavily injured teams.

Tom Benjamin theorized his best strength was that no one would want him and he could pass through waivers without a GM giving him a second glance. But then the crazy happened: Raycroft Version 4.0 was lights out in the preseason and stole the the back-up job away from presumed back-up Cory Schneider. In losing efforts against Columbus and Calgary, he has relieved Luongo and stopped 16 of 17 shots, good enough for a 1.14 GAA and a .917 S%. But the preseason means nothing and spelling Luongo twice doesn't equal a strong 60 minute game.

So despite the positive early returns, we still don't know which version of Raycroft we're going to get. His detractors will be out in full force expecting him to implode. So be it. But just as with Luongo, he'll be greatly assisted if the blueline doesn't abandon him. Expect AV to preach defensive responsibility in particular and, in addition, the importance of playing with the lead; they can't play shutdown hockey in the third and expect Raycroft or Schneider to consistently save them.

IF Vancouver can play better defensively (someone will have to step up in the shot blocking department with Johnson gone), IF their PP keeps rolling (now third best at 29.1%) and IF they can play more effectively at even strength, then Raycroft just needs to be average. Maybe the silver lining is, without their captain, the Canucks have a chance to firm up the sloppier parts of their game that they've been able to neglect because of their captain.

That's a lot of IF's. We'll see.

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