SUN Hockey Pool

Manny's battles

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, EDMONTON SUN

, Last Updated: 8:33 AM ET

The Minnesota Wild are never going to say they let the wrong goalie go at last year's trade deadline, but there's enough evidence to suggest they're going through a little seller's remorse after cutting loose Dwayne Roloson.

For starters, Roloson has been fantastic, having led Edmonton to the Stanley Cup final last season and posted the NHL's ninth best save percentage (.920), the 11th best goals against average (2.40) and three shutouts this year. He's been Edmonton's best player by a mile.

Secondly, the goaltender that Minnesota kept, Manny Fernandez, is battling the puck, and himself, as he struggles to regain the form that made Roloson expendable last March.

"He has to play better, like the other guys,'' said head coach Jacques Lemaire, after the Wild worked out yesterday at Rexall Place in preparation for tonight's reunion of trading partners.

"You need goaltending, you need your defence to be sharp, you need your forwards to come back.

"It seems like when we play a bad game everyone chips in."

IMPENETRABLE

Fernandez and the Wild used to be an impenetrable combination, but not lately. The 32-year-old ranks 20th in save percentage (.907), 21st in GAA (2.81) and was hooked three times in his last 13 starts, including Tuesday night's 5-2 loss in Calgary, in which Lemaire yarded him after four goals on 13 shots.

"It's a little tougher than last year," admits Fernandez. "Last year I felt really strong, the bounces were going my way all the time. I may have got pulled once all year. And even if I didn't feel good I still felt like I had a chance to pull one off."

He was in such a groove - sixth in the NHL in GAA(2.29)and save percentage (.919) - that the Wild, forced by unrestricted free agency to break up their goalkeeping tandem, shipped Roloson to Edmonton for first and third round draft picks.

"Him and Manny were a great duo," said Lemaire, who could have used Roloson a few times this season.

"If one guy was slowing down a bit the other guy picked it up.

"I thought we had the best combination (in the NHL) at that time.

'CHOOSE ONE'

"But with the salary cap and all that, we had to choose one guy and we kept the youngest one. We looked at his potential, his potential was huge, and we decided to go with Manny. It was that simple.

"And at the time the decision came, Roli wasn't as sharp as he is now. He struggled for a little while (in Edmonton) and turned out to be a very great goalie in the playoffs."

Nine months later, the Wild are pretty much back to splitting the netminding duties. In the 15 games since Nov. 12, Fernandez started nine games and finished seven. Niklas Backstrom started six games and finished five.

That Lemaire wouldn't commit to Fernandez for tonight's game with Roloson and the Oilers, a showdown for first in the division, speaks volumes about the uncertainty in Minnesota's net.

Fernandez admits his confidence isn't where it should be.

"When that happens, it seems like the puck is going to hit a stick or it's going to be a funny bounce or a good play, where I can't get my head above water," he said, adding he doesn't feel as energetic as he did last year. "I get into games where I feel really tired. I don't know, I'm still questioning a lot about this. But I'll find it. Every athlete goes through it."

Roloson found it in Edmonton, which comes as no surprise to his former teammate.

"I'm happy for him, he had a great run," said Fernandez, downplaying any friction Minnesota's two-goalie system might have created.

"The best way to explain it is we were respectful of one another, and at the same time the team benefited from that rivalry.

"The first time we crossed paths (after the trade) we didn't have to say anything, we sort of understood that we made our games better by being together.

"For what it's worth, I was kind of missing him when he left."


Videos

Photos