EDMONTON - Craig MacTavish is loathe to admit he has a goaltending controversy on his hands, but cold, hard numbers and recent performances by Dwayne Roloson and Mathieu Garon suggest he does.
With the offensively challenged and injury riddled Oilers trying to claw their way up Western Conference standings, the Edmonton head coach has no choice but to go with the hot hand in goal.
That hand belongs to Garon, who is coming off back-to-back wins and has put up better numbers than Roloson through 19 games since being signed as a free agent last July.
As for Roloson, beaten 4-2 by the Minnesota Wild on Thursday, he's lost five in a row and has played at times like his catching glove and blocker have been hanging in a meat locker.
One's hot. One's not.
"Matty has played exceptionally well lately," said MacTavish, who will start Garon against the Calgary Flames on Saturday.
"His last two games have been stellar, so draw your own conclusions on the starter tomorrow. I think it's pretty obvious."
Garon, 29, an unheralded off-season acquisition compared to Dustin Penner, Sheldon Souray or Joni Pitkanen - he inked a two-year deal for US$2.2 million US - has given MacTavish plenty to think about.
He blanked the Vancouver Canucks 1-0 in a shootout Wednesday with 29 saves, on the heels of kicking aside 37 shots in a 4-2 win over the Flames last Saturday. Overall, the native of Chandler, Que., is 4-2-0 with a 2.41 goals-against average and a .915 save percentage.
"I'm starting to feel good. I've been playing a lot the last two weeks and I can't ask for more," Garon said.
"The way we've been playing defensively, it makes it easier for me. If we keep on playing that way, we're going to be successful."
Roloson, 38, hasn't won a game since beating Minnesota 5-4 in a shootout Oct. 25. He allowed four goals on 25 shots against the Wild on Thursday, a performance in which he admitted to fighting the puck.
MacTavish's No. 1 stopper to open the season has a 3-9-1 record, a 3.21 GAA, an .890 save percentage and a salary of $3.5 million US.
"It's one of those things. You have to do whatever it takes to win a hockey game," Roloson said. "Right now I haven't been doing it.
"Right now, it's just going back to basics and working on things in practice to get into that groove again. When you get in there, take advantage of it." Roloson says he isn't wasting time contemplating any so-called goaltender controversy. He's pulling for Garon to play well until his own game comes around.
"You don't worry about it," Roloson said. "I'm happy he's playing well. He's given us an opportunity to win.
"The games he stole for us are key. For me personally, I can't worry about it. I just have to do whatever I can to get ready next time I play."
Facing another must-win game Saturday when the Flames come calling at Rexall Place in the second of six straight games the 7-11-1 Oilers play at home, Garon is, for now, the go-to guy.
"Roli is very capable of playing at the same high level he did a year-and-a-half ago," MacTavish said. "He's got lots to draw on. Over the course of his career he's had lots of ups and downs.
"He's always been able to work himself out of it. I don't think this will be any exception. He's a very workmanlike guy. He understands his game better than anybody. I don't question he can work himself through this."
Shouldering the load is nothing new to Garon. He saw action in 63 games with the Los Angeles Kings in 2005-06 and won 31 of them.
"I never said I'm never going to be a No. 1 goalie again," Garon said. "I'm 29 and I've shown I can play lots of games and be successful.
"When the chance is going to come, I'm going to take it for sure. The only way I can do it is by playing good and getting some wins."
When the season began, it was noted by many pundits Garon had the credentials to eventually take over as MacTavish's starter. Few saw him forcing the issue after just 19 games.
"I don't know any goalies who just want to be a back-up," Garon said. "Everybody wants to be No. 1 and play more. When I signed here, I knew my role This is my role right now."