SUN Hockey Pool

Kings' loss is Oilers' Garon

DEREK VAN DIEST -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:17 AM ET

He's probably been the Edmonton Oilers best off-season acquisition.

This summer, Mathieu Garon was brought in to caddy for Dwayne Roloson.

But in half a season, the supposed backup has won the starting job.

And the question around these parts is, how was it the Los Angeles Kings let this guy get away?

"Last year it was more about injuries with Mathieu than anything," said Kings head coach Marc Crawford. "He had some great periods of play and unfortunately he got injured a couple of times.

'FRUSTRATING SEASON'

"It was a frustrating season for him. Everybody knows Mathieu is a quality person, and we're happy to see the success that he's having."

Garon, 30, spent two seasons with the Kings.

In 32 games last year, the Chandler, Que., native had a 13-10-6 record with a 2.66 goals against average and a .907 save percentage.

The previous year he was 31-26-3 in 63 starts with them.

"I think when they changed their GM and coach, they brought in their own goalie and I was not part of the plans anymore," Garon said. "I knew it, so last summer I had a chance to pick my team and I'm really happy I picked Edmonton."

Last night, Garon made his seventh consecutive start for the Oilers.

"It doesn't surprise me one bit how well he's playing," said Kings winger Dustin Brown. "In the lockout year he was unbelievable (in Manchester) and the year after the lockout he had 30 wins on a pretty sub-par team. The ability has always been there.

"Last year he was battling with some injuries, but he's a goalie that can keep you in the game making the save that he's not supposed to make, which is a big boost for the whole team."

Garon went into last night's game against the Kings with a 14-9-1 record, a 2.34 goals against average and .918 save percentage.

He backstopped the Oilers to their first four-game winning streak this season, which they took into last night's contest.

"He's one of the most competitive guys I've every played with," Brown said. "And when you mix that with his great athletic ability it's a good combination. He's a good athlete and it's a matter of him being consistent."

A highly touted goaltender out of junior, Garon was the Montreal Canadiens' second pick - 44th overall - in the 1996 NHL Entry Draft.

He spent part of six years in the Canadiens system before being traded to the Kings.

Last season Crawford brought in Dan Cloutier to be the Kings starting goaltender, having worked with him in Vancouver.

The Kings also had Jason LaBarbera and Jonathan Bernier in their system.

'RESPECTED DECISION'

"We wanted Mathieu to stay, but we respected the decision he made when he got to a free agency period," Crawford said. "He chose to go out and look for brighter pastures and obviously he's found a great home here in Edmonton."

Unfortunately for the Kings, Cloutier is no longer around. Bernier was sent back to junior and LaBarbera was hurt for the first two weeks of December.

"They know their organization at the time that they're making those decisions better than we do," said Oilers head coach Craig MacTavish. "At the time LaBarbera was playing well in the American League. Talking to (Oilers assistant coach) Rob Daum, he was as good a goalie as there was down there.

"He was a younger guy coming up and they had a history with Cloutier, so I can understand the reasoning behind it."

Regardless, the Oilers are happy Garon was available. And at $1.2-million a season, is one of the best bargains in the league.

"You can't underestimate the importance he's had to our team at this point," MacTavish said. "He's one of the top five or six contributors on our team on a regular basis throughout the season. And as any team will tell you about their goaltending, it's the most important position and he's played well. The numbers speak for themselves."


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