BUFFALO, N.Y. — Mathieu Garon will make his third straight start in net for the Lightning tonight against the Sabres at HSBC Arena. With two straight victories, including a shutout, and saves on 37 of 38 shots, he deserves it, coach Guy Boucher said.
But before anyone gets the idea this is the start of a goaltending controversy, or even a competition between Garon and Dwayne Roloson, Boucher applied the proactive brakes.
"Who do you think we start if the playoffs were tomorrow?" he said. "Roli is the goaltender we signed to come back here and do what he's always done, so no plans have changed at all."
What is going on, Boucher said, is what always has gone on with hockey teams. The No. 1 goaltender has a bad stretch and the backup comes in to provide some stability until the No. 1 gets back on his game.
Garon certainly has done that with back-to-back wins to snap a five-game losing streak that included Roloson allowing 17 goals in his past three games.
In that context, Boucher said, not starting Garon would be the bigger story.
"Right now it's a question of getting our team on the right track, and the last games we're on the right track, so we don't purposely mess up with some stuff," Boucher said.
"He's having a great stretch," Boucher added about Garon. "We want to make sure we respect that and ride it."
Garon, 33, certainly is playing well. He also is the beneficiary of Tampa Bay's renewed defensive vigor. While Garon faced 38 shots combined in his past two games, Roloson faced 94 in his past three.
If Roloson, 42, is sour about that or sitting again it's not apparent.
"You can't get frustrated because then it leaks into your game," said Roloson, who is 1-2-1 with a 5.09 goals-against average and .858 save percentage. "That's the way hockey is. There are two goalies, so one guy is going to play. It doesn't matter if you're playing or not, you still have to be ready."
Roloson said he has worked on "little tweaks" to his game to stop minor problems from turning into big ones.
He also is rooting for Garon — 2-1-1 with a 1.51 goals-against average that was eighth in the league entering Monday and a .948 save percentage that was sixth — to keep it up.
"It's all about the team winning," Roloson said. "You always cheer for the other guys. For me, it's being ready to go when I get the opportunity."
"Roli has been pushing me and encouraging me all the time," Garon said. "We're both here for the success of the team."
That's how Boucher sees it, too.
"What I see is Roli has a job to do, and when he's not at the top of his game we absolutely have somebody who can do the job. I'm just glad we have that depth."
As for who plays Thursday at Nashville, that pretty much depends on how Garon does tonight.
"We have complete confidence in whoever goes in there," center Nate Thompson said. "Marty has been playing well, but we know when Roli goes back in there he's going to play well, too."
"I've been there before," Garon said. "Just focus on one game and see what happens."
Damian Cristodero can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Damian Cristodero, Times Staff Writer