OTTAWA — Veteran goalie Dwayne Roloson was very good in the second half of last season, when he helped carry the Lightning to the Eastern Conference final.
That might seem like a distant memory for Tampa Bay fans, who have watched Roloson, 42, struggle this season. He has allowed at least four goals in 11 of 19 appearances and has an .882 save percentage and 3.80 goals-against average.
As a result, Roloson, who signed a one-year, $3 million deal to be the No. 1 goalie, has been on the bench while Mathieu Garon started eight in a row.
But Roloson gets his shot tonight at Ottawa, starting for the first time since Dec. 12. And Tampa Bay is hoping it's the start of another special second half.
"I've seen it in the past," Lightning coach Guy Boucher said. "You ride one goaltender, and all of a sudden, whoops, it's the other goalie you're riding. Hopefully, that's what we're going to see. We're going to need it."
Boucher lauded Roloson's attitude and work ethic during the long period he has not started. In the meantime, Roloson has worked with goaltenders coach Frantz Jean on technical matters, the break also offering him a chance to rest mentally and physically. Jean saw an assertive Roloson in his relief effort Tuesday, saving 18 of 21 shots in a 7-3 loss to the Maple Leafs.
"You build off any time you get a chance to play," Roloson said. "You can do a lot in practice, but you're still not emulating a game. A game is totally different. You're making reads and all of that."
Goalies often receive the blame, fair or not. Roloson, like Garon, hasn't been helped by the team's play in front of him, and the defense has been depleted due to injuries to Mattias Ohlund and Victor Hedman.
But Roloson hasn't made the same amount of big-time saves at key times as he did last season and hasn't been nearly as consistent.
"Everyone looks at the numbers, and you can read the numbers whatever way you want," Roloson said. "When I was in (Minnesota), I was below .500 but my goals-against average was under 2.00 and save percentage was .930.
"So I've seen other guys who had numbers like mine and have 18 wins and two losses. Numbers are there, obviously, for a reason, but … I don't put too much stock into them. You just focus on trying to help your team win, and that's the bottom line."
Roloson played just 20 games for the Islanders last season before being acquired on Jan. 1. And he said, "Hopefully, the rest is a good thing for going down the stretch."
"We've seen what he can do throughout his career in tough situations, playoff situations. This guy is highly competitive. He's tough mentally," Jean said. "You look at the greatest goalies in the history of the NHL. They all went through periods that are tougher.
"The key thing is to keep steering the ship straight and come to work every day. There's no magic solution. Just come to work and work on the little things, and that's what he's been doing. He's put all the chances on his side to really have a good second half."
The Lightning is betting on it.
Malone update: RW Ryan Malone (lower body), who sat out Tuesday, likely won't play tonight and is questionable for Saturday.
Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected]