New man behind the mask
Gene Principe interviews Oilers goaltender Mathieu Garon (photo by Andy Devlin)
It’s a new season and a new direction for the Edmonton Oilers and those words couldn’t ring any more true than with tonight’s match-up against the Philadelphia Flyers.
The Oilers will be lining up across the ice from former captain Jason Smith, but also there’s a very good chance that Mathieu Garon could get the start in goal – a departure from the way Edmonton did business last season.
“I’m really excited. It’s going to be my first game here, first game of the season and I think the way we played yesterday is a really good sign and I hope we play the same way (tonight),” Garon remarked, noting that playing in front of a new defence won’t faze him in the least if he plays this evening. “Most of the guys I had a chance to play with in the preseason. I didn’t play with all of them together but I know they played well Thursday.”
It’s certainly not business as usual for the Oilers in 2007-08. Thursday night, head coach Craig MacTavish went with a youthful lineup and didn’t hesitate to put them on the ice in important situations. 18-year-old Sam Gagner was on the ice with two minutes left in a 2-1 lead and players like Gagner, Andrew Cogliano, Tom Gilbert and Kyle Brodziak all made the scoresheet.
Continuing on that not-business-as-usual trend, MacTavish said in the pre-season that Garon ideally will get into around 30 games this season. That means that in non-conference games like tonight Garon is very likely to get the nod. The goaltender has already sized up the Flyers lineup.
“They have a good offensive team and there’s going to be a couple of guys we have to check on,” Garon said. “Briere and Gagne are playing very good and (Thursday) they got a few points.”
Philadelphia got off to a quick start. Briere, in his Flyers debut, scored twice including the game-winning goal in a 3-2 win over Calgary. But Edmonton also won 3-2, in a shootout, Thursday.
“We want to keep it rolling. We’re not going to be satisfied with just one win. Especially at home, you’ve got to win those games,” Garon noted.
With the team heading out on the road after tonight, it is certainly a good chance for Garon to get his feet wet early in the season and in front of the fans at Rexall Place.
“I’m going to be a little nervous and excited for sure. It’s always good to play in front of your fans. I can’t wait.”
Garon has shown flashes of brilliance during the pre-season – most notably when he lifted an undermanned Oilers squad to a 2-1 shootout win in Phoenix, making 39 saves in the process.
“Do I like what I’ve seen out of Garon? Absolutely,” said MacTavish during in the pre-season. “I think he’s capable of giving us a higher-end game” than what the Oilers have received in the past with their backups.
The fact that Garon was signed on July 1 shows how much of a priority the Oilers put on getting a capable goaltender who can give Roloson some more nights off this season.
“It’s always good when you know the organization wants you and that’s how I felt on July 1st when they called me a few times,” Garon said.
He has played with a heavy workload before. In 2005-06, Garon played 63 games and won 31 times for the L.A. Kings. While he certainly won’t see that much work this season he’s excited to be playing in Canada.
“It’s so much better in Canada. I kind of missed it the two years I was in L.A. I could feel it as soon as I got off the plane when I came for training camp. You see people with Oilers jerseys and t-shirts everywhere.”
Having also played with the Canadiens for several seasons – and in a tandem with former Oiler Ty Conklin with Hamilton in 2002-03 – Garon knows what kind of pressure comes with playing north of the border.
“I played in Montreal before, I know how it is to play in Canada. I’m not scared of that – I think of it as a positive. I think it’s always good to have fans behind you,” he said. “When you don’t play well they let you know, you don’t get away with it as easily.”