SUN Hockey Pool

Second audition?

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:57 AM ET

It's not often that a team's most valuable player has to audition all over again the next season, but that's how Mathieu Garon feels heading into Year 2 with the Oilers.

He's been anointed No. 1 by head coach Craig MacTavish, a distinction he earned with his stellar play and record-breaking efforts in the shootouts last season, but when you're a 30-year-old who's only played 185 NHL games, you can't take anything for granted.

PROVE HIMSELF

In a lot of eyes, including his own, Garon has to prove himself all over again.

"I know lots of people have doubts in me," he said yesterday, following the final practice before tonight's regular-season home opener against Colorado.

"Every time I come to training camp there's always doubts. The last two years I had good seasons but it's always the same questions - people wonder if I can do it again, if I can play lots of games. It's great to have the challenge, it adds to the motivation.

"Myself, I'm really confident, I know what I can do - a good job like last year, or even better."

Right now the plan is to put the team in Garon's hands, giving him a majority of the starts and spelling him off only occasionally with Dwayne Roloson and Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers.

But this is an important season and the Oilers do have options in goal. And as good as Garon was last year, saving Edmonton's season with a .913 save percentage and perfect 10-0 shootout record, he still hasn't earned the same benefit of the doubt that Roberto Luongo or Martin Brodeur enjoy.

The quicker he proves last year was no fluke, the less chance there is that MacTavish will switch to Plan B.

"It's like boxing," the coach said of his goaltending schedule.

"Everybody has a plan until you get punched in the face. There is a plan, but the plan is evolving and changing based on performance.

"It's an easy one to put in place now because they've all played really well. Right now I'm not afraid to play either one of them. But Matty is No. 1 based on the way he played last year and he backed it up this year (in the preseason)."

The team thinks Garon can duplicate last season, and so do a lot of fans.

But until he does there's always that sliver of concern.

"It feels good (being the starter), but at the same time I know you have to keep your job," said Garon. "If I'm not playing good I'm not going to stay No.1 for long. All I want to do is have good games and get wins early in the year."

This is a huge season for the Quebec native. The three-man rotation isn't going to work for very long, but before the Oilers can move Roloson and commit to Garon they need to see him prove he wasn't just a flash in the pan.

CONTRACT

There's also the matter of his contract. He's scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent this summer, so if he establishes himself as a bona-fide long-term starter, he'll set himself up for a major deal.

Currently he stands to be the biggest bargain in the NHL, earning the $1.1 million Edmonton signed him to when they thought he was a backup.

"It's going to be up to him to grab it and run with it and become not only a solid No.1 goalie on our team, but be one of the better goalies in the league," said MacTavish. "We all know how important goaltending is going to be in this division."


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