BROSSARD, Que. – Game after game, Dwayne Roloson goes into the Edmonton Oilers net and, more often than not, faces a barrage of shots from every angle.
The 39-year-old has started a team-record 21 games in a row and is all-but certain to be in goal again when the Oilers end a four-game road trip against the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre on Tuesday night.
Roloson is showing no signs of slowing down and is certainly not asking for any time off.
“Part of being a goalie is you want to play, you want to be the guy they go to,” he said Monday after the Oilers skated at the Canadiens’ suburban practice facility. “Fortunately for myself, I’m getting that opportunity now and I’m trying to take advantage of it the best I can and help our guys win games.
“It’s up to management to decide when I play and don’t play. If there comes a time when they say ‘You’ve got a night off,’ then that’s the case.”
Coach Craig MacTavish might ponder using young backup Jeff Deslauriers, a Montreal native who may shine in front of family and friends. That tactic has worked in the past for teams with a goaltender from Quebec.
But that chance seems remote with the roll that Roloson is on.
“It’s hard to get off Rollie now, with the way he’s playing,” said MacTavish. “We’ll continue to give it thought about possibly putting Jeff in.
“We feel like, with the way Rollie’s playing, when the games are so critical, that it’s more up to Rollie now. He says he feels rested and ready, and we’re at a critical stage, so we’re likely to see him. But Jeff’s been great. He’s got a terrific attitude through what’s been a pressure-filled year for all of us.”
Roloson set the record during Edmonton’s 4-1 win in Toronto on Saturday night, a game in which the Oilers were outshot 40-18. There was also a 43-save win against Minnesota on Feb. 28.
He is 10-8-3 over that span and has played a key role in keeping the Oilers in a playoff position in an NHL Western Conference that has only a seven-point gap between the sixth and 13th-place teams.
“I’m waiting for the question: Do you think all this activity has been beneficial to Rollie?” added MacTavish. “And I’ll answer it: It looks to me like it has.
“He is a guy that’s capable of keeping his game at the level it’s at for quite some time.”
Defenceman Sheldon Souray said Roloson has played as well as any goalie in the NHL during his 21-game stretch.
“We don’t play New Jersey’s system where he saves 18 shots a night – he’s saving 40 and letting in one or two,” said Souray. “If our offence could match our goaltending, we wouldn’t be in such a tight race.
“He’s been a rock back there.”
It is quite a change from the start of the season, when Edmonton was using Roloson, Deslauriers and Mathieu Garon, who was acquired last season to lighten Roloson’s workload after a 7-12-0 start.
With his strong play, Edmonton felt confident enough to trade Garon to Pittsburgh in January.
They keep Roloson fresh by giving him days off from practice.
“It’s not that difficult at all,” he said. “It’s just being able to balance the practice schedule and getting opportunities to rest.
“The way the schedule is set up, we’ve been able to do that. It’s what summer workouts are for – being physically and mentally ready to take on the workload, doing the things you need away from the game to be prepared. I’ve been fortunate to be healthy enough to do it.”
Now Edmonton has Roloson looking much like he did after he was acquired for a first-round pick from Minnesota in 2006. That year, he not only led the Oilers to the playoffs, but helped them reach the Stanley Cup final.
But he tore an knee ligament in the first game of the final, although Jussi Markkanen took over and brought Edmonton to Game 7, where they lost to Carolina.
Getting hurt at such a key moment was one of the biggest disappointments of his career.
“When you go as long as we did and play as well as we did at that time and you end up getting hurt, you’re frustrated, you’re mad, you’re upset, you feel you let your team down,” he said. “It’s a mixed bag of emotion.
“But at the same time, Jussi came in and played really well for us and gave us an opportunity to get to Game 7. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to come up on the right side of it.”
Now he hopes to make more playoff noise, and as long as the Oilers are in the hunt, he’s sure to see most, if not all, of the action.
Setting a record for consecutive starts is just part of the task.
“It’s great, but at the same time, it’s irrelevant right now,” he said. “We’re just trying to do the things we need as a team to move up the ladder or stay where we are in the playoff picture.
“We need to start getting some wins and do whatever we’ve got to do to win.”
All signs point to struggling right-winger Dustin Penner being left out of the lineup against Montreal. Penner, who is without a point in his last nine games, was not on one of the top four lines in practice.
MacTavish, who has sat out Robert Nilsson the last four games, said he needs to go with players who produce.
“I haven’t totally made up my mind about the lineup – we’ll see what we do,” he said. “I don’t want to get into it too much about Dustin.
“It’s a critical time now. We need everyone going and, with the deals we made at the deadline, we’ve got added depth, which we haven’t had in the past. We need guys to perform. We can’t have the patience to wait for guys to round their game into shape.”