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Edmonton goaltender Mathieu Garon finding his form with Oilers

EDMONTON - As quickly as a window of opportunity opens, it can slam shut again if the moment isn't seized or the circumstances aren't quite right.

Mathieu Garon learned that much in seven seasons trying to establish himself as a starting NHL goaltender, first with the Montreal Canadiens, then the Los Angeles Kings.

With those bids and his 30th birthday behind him, Garon is convinced it will be different with the Edmonton Oilers.

After wrestling the top job from Dwayne Roloson and beating the Calgary Flames 2-1 Sunday for his fifth win in six straight starts, Garon has reason to believe now is the time and Edmonton is the place.

He makes a compelling argument.

"I think right now is the best chance I've ever had," Garon said. "I feel like people are behind me and they want me to succeed. You might not get a chance like this in a month. It's right now."

Signed to a US$2.2-million, two-year contract as an unrestricted free agent July 3 to be Roloson's backup, Garon has taken over as coach Craig MacTavish's go-to guy.

Garon, who was named the NHL's second star of the week Monday, is 14-9-1 with a 2.34 goals-against average and a .918 save percentage in 26 appearances. He's also a perfect 7-0 in shootouts.

Just past the halfway point of the season, Garon has seen action in two more games than Roloson, who is 7-12-3 with a 3.12 GAA and a .901 save percentage.

"There's nothing that doesn't impress me," MacTavish said of Garon. "He's an unbelievably composed and focused guy. He just handles whatever is thrown at him.

"I don't get the impression he worries about things - when he's starting, when he's not starting. You deliver the news and he reacts appropriately. That's what we heard about him before we signed him. The story that resonated was what a terrific team player he was."

Drafted 44th overall by Montreal in 1996, Garon arrived from Victoriaville of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League with credentials as junior hockey's goaltender of the year in 1998, getting the nod over Roberto Luongo.

That pedigree wasn't enough to push Garon ahead of Jose Theodore in the pecking order. With Theodore earning the Hart Trophy as MVP and Vezina Trophy for 2001-02, Garon was dealt to Los Angeles in the summer of 2004 after playing just 43 games through four seasons.

"It's not that he didn't make the most of his opportunity, it's that they went with another guy," said Oilers defenceman Sheldon Souray, a teammate of Garon's in Montreal.

"Life's all about timing, right? Sometimes, there's things you can't control. You can't control some of the decisions a coach is going to make or who management brings in.

"What you can control is that you make the decisions tough. I think Matty has always done that. He was a great soldier for our team in Montreal, a tremendous teammate. We're seeing that here, too."

Garon proved to be a capable starter with a mediocre Los Angeles team under coach Andy Murray in 2005-06. The Kings won 42 games, 31 of those with Garon. He was 31-26-3 in 63 games.

Despite a breakthrough season, Garon played just 32 games last season when Marc Crawford took over as coach and deemed Dan Cloutier, who had inked a three-year deal, the starter.

Garon went 13-10-6 with a 2.66 GAA and .907 save percentage, but it became obvious he'd have to look elsewhere for his opportunity. Enter the Oilers.

"I thought going to LA would be my chance," Garon said. "They changed the coach and the GM. I was not the guy any more. I knew I would not get a chance, so it was best for me to get out of there.

"Coming here, they made me feel like they really wanted me. They've given me a chance to succeed and I really want to take it."

With Edmonton's playoff hopes in the Western Conference hinging on the second half, it'll be Roloson making the big money, $3.5 million, and Garon playing the big games.

"If you work, someday you will find the right time and right place," said Garon. "For me, it took more time, but I'm happy I had to go through all that before. It brought me experience and maturity."

With four straight wins, a 1.95 GAA and a .936 save percentage during his six-game ascent, Garon is expected to make his seventh straight start Tuesday against the Kings.

"I'm an athlete," Garon said. "I want to play. I want to win. That's always there and it always will be. That's what drives me, makes me come to the rink."

Right time. Right place.


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