SUN Hockey Pool

'Conkkanen' in tandem

ROBIN BROWNLEE -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 12:56 PM ET

ANAHEIM -- Fans on one hockey website refer to the tandem tending the twine for the Edmonton Oilers as "Conkkanen."

Witty, but I'm not sure how Ty Conklin and Jussi Markkanen, who will platoon between the pipes for Craig MacTavish to start this season, feel about being morphed into this character.

What's more certain is how Conklin and Markkanen are approaching a situation in which there's no defined starter and back-up, but rather a 1A and 1B - a rotation seen by some as less than ideal.

They'll stop pucks and let MacT sort out the rest. Which is what they've done handily in two games - a 4-3 win over Colorado, with Conklin crouching in the paint, and a 4-3 shootout victory over Vancouver, with Markkanen in his season debut.

0.00 GAA IN THREE STARTS

Next up, the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim. Markkanen, who boasts a 0.00 goals-against average in three career starts against them, will get the nod tonight. Conklin gets his turn against the Kings in Los Angeles tomorrow.

That's the deal. At least for now.

"I think we both knew coming in there was a likelihood it was going to be like this," said Conklin. "I can only speak for myself, but you just go out there and play your best and try to make it hard for the coach to take you out."

Conklin, 29, shook off a tender groin and a sub-par pre-season to beat the Avalanche on opening night, despite being victimized by a couple of cheesy goals.

Markkanen, 30, didn't play a single minute in pre-season while a fractured collarbone healed, but he beat the Canucks with a 28-save performance and shut the door in the shootout.

"I think it's pretty easy for us," said Markkanen, who surrendered three power-play goals against Vancouver. "Neither of us has been in the league so many years. We haven't been that No. 1 guy."

Until Conklin or Markkanen dictates MacTavish change his plans based on how they perform, they'll split the workload close to evenly. This rotation concept isn't exactly a new idea.

"If you go back to when we had Grant Fuhr and Andy Moog, they pretty much split until we got the playoffs the first couple of years," GM Kevin Lowe said. "It breeds good competition.

"If the guys are mentally strong, which these guys are, they can handle it. They are going to be fine. It's not a case of us being uncertain that either of these guys can do it, it's that they're very close."

BOTH FIGURE THEY CAN DO NO. 1 JOB

Conklin and Markkanen, who teamed to backstop the 2003-04 stretch drive after the wheels fell off Tommy Salo, think they can get it done as MacTavish's No. 1 stopper.

"Everybody wants to be the starting goalie, but you have to prove you can do it," Conklin said. "You have to prove you deserve that opportunity."

Markkanen spent the lockout with Lada Togliatti in Russia and saw action in 54 games. He led the league with a stingy 1.20 goals-against average and was second in the circuit with 11 shutouts.

"Even when I was with Tommy here, I believed in myself," Markkanen said. "He was the go-to guy. It's a bit different now, but, at the same time, I believe all goalies want to play all the time."

One thing about a goaltending rotation, there's not nearly as much slack for either stopper. That's not a bad thing.

"You don't want to go out there and be mediocre because you know the coach will have no problem taking you out," Conklin said. "If you play well on a consistent basis, that's as much as you can control."

Right now, there's little to choose between the two.

"You can't worry about those things," Markkanen said. "You control how you play. Let the performance decide who is going to play."


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