BRANDON — Lightning goaltender Dwayne Roloson has a surefire way of determining during practice if he is on his game.
"Well," he said with a straight face, "the puck hits you."
Roloson laughed at the throw-away line, but he actually was on to something. Because ultimately, that is how his return to the starting lineup tonight against the Jets at the St. Pete Times Forum will be judged.
"I'm really anxious to be back in and play," Roloson said. "I had time off to work on a lot of stuff. I'd like to see it in a game and see where we're at."
Roloson hasn't started since Oct. 17 against the Panthers, when he allowed seven goals on 33 shots. That was the culmination of an awful three-game stretch in which he did not play well, the team gave him little defensive help and he allowed 17 goals.
He redeemed himself somewhat during Thursday's 5-3 loss to the Predators by stopping all 10 shots he faced in 26 minutes in relief of Mathieu Garon.
That, coupled with how Roloson apparently excelled in what goaltenders coach Frantz Jean described as a back-to-basics practice program, has the team convinced Roloson is primed.
"He's ready to go," Jean said. "We feel very comfortable putting him in the net at any time."
"We have every bit of confidence in Roli back there," left wing Ryan Malone said. "Those games earlier in the year, he didn't get much help. We're not worried about Roli at all."
Still, there is no question Roloson needs a good game not only to re-establish himself but to keep at bay those who doubt a 42-year-old can maintain the high level of play needed of a No. 1 goalie.
Coach Guy Boucher has gone out of his way to say Roloson is Tampa Bay's No. 1. Still, his 4.54 goals-against average entered Friday 61st out of 62 goalies listed by the league, and his .869 save percentage was 53rd.
"It's all about the team. That's the bottom line," Roloson said at the Ice Sports Forum. "You can't put all the pressure on yourself to go out and have a phenomenal game. When you do that, it comes back to bite you. Just go out and focus on playing your game."
For Roloson, the focus during almost two weeks of practice while Garon won three of four games was about movement and footwork, the refinement of which should help close the short side that was so vulnerable, especially against Florida.
"If I'm moving well and getting to spots efficiently, that's the key," Roloson said. "That's all we've been working on."
"It's all about getting back to some basic elements and putting in some repetition," Jean said. "He's been very good in practice the last week and a half."
Jean said he simulated game situations as much as he could with right- and left-handed shooters, traffic in front of the net and passing plays. It seemed to pay off Thursday against Nashville.
"He was exactly what I thought he would be," Boucher said, "the rebound guy, the guy who feels a little set back. You know he's going to bounce back, not just a bit but a lot. He came in, and that's exactly what we saw."
We saw the puck hit him.
Damian Cristodero can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @LightningTimes.
Lightning vs. Jets
When/where: 7; St. Pete Times Forum, Tampa
TV/radio: Ch. 44; 970-AM