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Tampa Bay Lightning's Dwayne Roloson slumping, but still No. 1 goalie

TAMPA — The dance is not new to either man. They lived it once before in another time, and another place.

It was a little more than four years ago when Mathieu Garon signed a two-year deal to be the backup goaltender to a 38-year-old starter in Edmonton.

When the old guy got off to a 3-9-1 start, Garon was suddenly the most popular hockey player in the city. He started getting playing time. He started getting praise. And by the time midseason rolled around, he had gotten the starting job.

The man he replaced?

Dwayne Roloson.

The story today in Tampa Bay is nearly identical, except the old guy has seen four more birthdays added to his resume. Once again, Garon has signed a two-year deal to be a backup. Once again, Roloson is off to a slow start.

Just don't assume history is about to repeat itself. Lightning coach Guy Boucher is not about to tear up his goaltending plans nine games into a season.

Instead, you might want to consider this a sequel with an ending still to be determined. Roloson has hit a rough patch, Garon has a hot hand, and Boucher is obliged to ride the goaltender who will give his team the best opportunity to win tonight.

"My faith in Roli has not changed at all. Not at all," Boucher said Monday afternoon. "I have always believed in him, not only what he does on the ice, but off the ice as well. Specifically, I believe in his approach to get his game back when it's not at its best.

"He's not only been a man about it, but he's been the perfect example of what you need to be. He's the guy cheering the team on from the bench, he's got the right attitude in practice, and he's showing everybody it's about winning and not about him."

Ask yourself why this is Boucher's stance.

Ask yourself why, when Garon is due to start his third consecutive game tonight in Buffalo, the coach does not make the goaltending job an open competition.

Because the answers are pretty simple when you think about it.

There is a reason Roloson went into the 2007-08 season as the No. 1 goaltender ahead of Garon in Edmonton. There is a reason Roloson reclaimed his job early the next season, and a reason Garon was traded to Pittsburgh a short time later.

And, yes, there is a reason Roloson was No. 1 again when the goaltenders were reunited in Tampa Bay this season.

Roloson has the better track record in the regular season, he has far more experience in the postseason, and he has a stronger reputation for stability in the league.

Now, is it possible circumstances have changed? That Garon, at 33, has finally found his footing with his sixth NHL team? And that Roloson, at 42, has finally seen his time pass?

That is entirely conceivable. A couple of months from now, we may even say it is probable.

But there is no reason to pass final judgment on the goaltenders today. To take a job away from Roloson so quickly into a season.

Garon has been strong in consecutive victories, and Roloson's numbers look embarrassing in contrast. Yet it's not fair to blame Roloson for all the goals that were scored, and it's not fair to credit Garon for all the gains that have been made.

The skaters have played a far tighter and smarter game for Garon. There have not been as many shots on goal, nor as many penalty kill situations.

No one is excusing Roloson's lapses, but the Lightning is also aware that there are mitigating factors for his poor statistics.

"Every goalie goes through this," Boucher said. "The problem is that position is in such a spotlight. That's why not everybody can play goalie because there's so much pressure, and you're under the gun all the time and you're under the radar all the time, and the minute you're a little off or make one mistake, it all comes down on you."

So, yes, there is a good chance Garon will get more playing time than you originally expected. At his age, Roloson was not going to start 60 games anyway. He was probably going to be in the 50-start range, so maybe the final tally will be closer to a 45-37 mix.

Or maybe Garon gradually takes over the job as the season progresses. The point is there is no reason to bury Roloson in October. If his body is finally betraying him, there is plenty of time to figure that out in the coming weeks.

For now, he is still the guy the Lightning considers No. 1.

He still deserves the chance to prove that.

Tampa Bay Lightning's Dwayne Roloson slumping, but still No. 1 goalie 10/24/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 25, 2011 10:30am]
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