SUN Hockey Pool

Jussi marking his time

Edmonton Oilers' Dwayne Roloson (left) congratulates Jussi Markkanen on his 2-1 win over the...

Edmonton Oilers' Dwayne Roloson (left) congratulates Jussi Markkanen on his 2-1 win over the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday. (Edmonton Sun/Darryl Dyck)

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 10:27 AM ET

With Dwayne Roloson playing some of the best goal of his career, almost singlehandedly leading Edmonton to a 4-2 record, Jussi Markkanen knows he'll be getting less action this year than Clay Aiken in a biker bar.

Whatever aspirations he may have had during his cup of coffee in the No. 1 spot last year, a promotion made possible by Ty Conklin's troubling save allergy, have been replaced by acceptance of his new situation.

Markkanen knows there won't be many scraps left over when a Conn Smythe-calibre netminder, the second-highest paid player on the team, is picking ahead of him in the buffet line known as the NHL schedule.

REDUCE WAIT

But he says there's only one way to try and reduce the wait time.

"I believe a big thing is going to be how I play," said Markkanen, who had to wait until the sixth game of the season before making his 2006-07 debut, a 2-1 win over Vancouver.

"I believe that. If I'm able to play good and we're still winning games when I'm in there, I'm going to play more than the other way around."

That stands to reason; head coach Craig MacTavish would rather play Roloson until his skate blades wear out than start a backup who can't win.

But even in Markkanen's best case scenario he's only looking at about 15 games, a significant drop from the career high 37 he played in last year.

"To start the season, I tell myself you're going to prepare for 82 games and you're going to prepare the same way whether you play or not," said Markkanen, 31. "Be ready for every game. That's what I'm trying to do."

It's not easy being a designated gate opener, growing stale on the bench for weeks at a time and then thrust into games that can make or break a season (when a team only makes the playoffs by three points, there are no insignificant starts).

But making an impact in a limited role is better than no impact, or no role, at all. And after being thrown into last year's Cup final on one day's notice, after three months on the shelf, and responding the way he did tells you all you need to know about his backbone.

"Definitely that experience is going to help," said Markkanen.

"I'm going to try to remember that feeling, what we had and what I had when I played. Try to get the same feeling out there."

Markkanen did get a pretty good read on the hockey club after watching the first five games from the bench. The defensive end had become a minefield that blew up on the last road trip, with Roloson facing 79 shots in two games against Colorado and Vancouver.

"I guess we kind of fell into a feeling that we're going to win these games, not easy, but without 100% effort or our best game," he said.

"It's not going to be like that in this league. We got away with it for a couple of games because Roli played really good... but you can't do that over the long run."

SHORED UP

They shored things up considerably in Markkanen's win over the Canucks, holding Vancouver to nine shots through the first 40 minutes before giving up 13 in the final period.

A step in the right direction as far as MacTavish is concerned.

"It's good news that (Roloson) is playing at that level," said MacTavish. "And bad news that he had to."


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