Ty Conklin knows how hot the Edmonton Oilers' crease can get.
The Oilers goaltender got a taste of it during the chase for a playoff spot in 2004.
This year, Conklin entered his first NHL training camp with a legitimate shot at being a starting goaltender. And despite struggling early in the pre-season, the Eagle River, Alaska native feels good about the upcoming campaign.
"I know I've had a bit of a slow start at training camp," Conklin said. "But I generally start out slow and work my way up. I feel really good and I'm looking forward to the season."
As is the case with every goaltender in the league, Conklin is adjusting to the new-look NHL.
His pads are smaller. There are limitations on where he can play the puck behind his net. And the emphasis is on more goals.
All in all, it's a tough time to be a goaltender.
"There is always going to be an adjustment period, but it's not just for goalies, all the players are trying to adjust to the new rules, too," said Conklin.
"I don't feel that much smaller in my net with the new equipment. Obviously, though, you know there is those couple of extra inches off here and there."
Having played just 11 games in Germany and then with the U.S. team at the 2005 World Championships, Conklin did not see a lot of rubber during the NHL lockout.
The rust showed in his first couple of outings during the exhibition season.
"He started off poor, worked his way to average and in his last game was pretty good," said Oilers head coach Craig MacTavish.
"For goaltenders, it's a bunch of things that are going on. It's new equipment, smaller pads, confined areas to play the puck. They haven't played at this level in 16 months so it's understandable that he would run the cycle from poor to average to good.
"A lot of goalies are running that same cycle. But he's a sharp guy, a competitive guy. He knew that he had some work to do and he's done it."
One thing Conklin does have going for him is the fact he's not in it alone. Conklin is expected to share the goaltending duties with Jussi Markkanen this season.
Markkanen, reacquired by the Oilers just prior to the trade deadline in 2004, is recovering from a broken collarbone. That means Conklin will likely get the call when the regular season gets underway tonight against the Colorado Avalanche.
From then on in, the Oilers are expected to use the two-goaltender system.
"When you have two good goalies like we do, we'd like to keep them both sharp. Hopefully they can just feed off one another," MacTavish said. "They have to have a good, healthy relationship, which they do. And they are both pretty capable of critiquing their own game. It's a real luxury that we have."
Needless to say, both Conklin and Markkanen would like to get the call every night. That's not going to happen.
Neither of them have started a season as a No. 1 goaltender. So it's unlikely one will get the bulk of the work over the other.
"I think that's something we both expect during the season and obviously I think our play will dictate who plays more," Conklin said.
"If one guy is playing better, then there is no reason to believe he's not going to be the guy playing more."
However, Conklin is ready if the situation arises where he's called on to play every night.
"You have to go into the year believing that you can play 60 games in a season," Conklin said.
"But you have to go in there and play those 60 games at a high level. You can't play 35 good ones, 10 OK ones and the rest not so good.
"There's a big difference between playing 60 games and playing 60 games at a high level."
Having never been asked to carry the load for an NHL team, Conklin can understand why there might be some doubts among Oiler fans about the team's goaltending situation.
"I don't have any control over that at all. If I was a fan I'd probably be thinking the same thing," he said. "But the way I look at it, at some point in everybody's career, they're unproven.
"Until you do that and play well every night, there is going to be questions. I just want to go out there and play well whenever I get a chance. That's how I've looked at it throughout my whole career."