The struggling veteran or the inexperienced rookie.
Those are the two choices staring at the Tampa Bay Lightning as they try to solve their goaltending issues after the loss of Mathieu Garon to a partially torn groin muscle that will keep him out three to four weeks, according to general manager Steve Yzerman.
Garon had been carrying the load the past two months as the Lightning crept back into the playoff picture — they sit four points out of the No. 8 spot in the Eastern Conference heading into tonight's matchup with Washington. While Yzerman said the team will continue to explore other options, including looking to players in Europe, the short term has only two choices.
So with Garon out, perhaps for the rest of the regular season, Tampa Bay will turn to either 42-year-old Dwayne Roloson or 22-year-old Dustin Tokarski, who was recalled from Norfolk of the American Hockey League on Wednesday and will suit up for tonight's key meeting with the Capitals.
But who will start?
"These goaltenders will get an opportunity to fight and make a difference and you never know what day is going to be their best day,'' Lightning head coach Guy Boucher said. "I think Roli has shown in the past that he has had some very good days and been able to win some games for us and I'm sure he'll be able to win games for us again.
"And Tokarski, the situation we are in right now, he's going to get in the net at some point. I don't know when. I'll go over a plan that we want, but right now I think we are game-by-game. So I'll talk to (Tokarski) and I'll talk to Roli.''
Here's what the Lightning have to choose from for the time being.
Roloson was one of the main contributors to Tampa Bay's run to the Eastern Conference finals last season, stabilizing the goaltending position. But this year has been a struggle as his 3.82 goals-against average is the highest in the league for anybody who has started more than one game and his .878 save percentage is better than only five others. Roloson has not allowed fewer than three goals in any of his past 11 starts and has allowed five or more goals eight times this season, including his relief appearance Tuesday after Garon went down to injury early in the first period.
Roloson's last start allowing fewer than three goals came Nov. 17, leaving doubt as to whether he'll be capable of recapturing the magic he showed last season.
"He's a veteran guy that has been around a long time and has always thrived in situations where he was counted on,'' Yzerman said of Roloson.
Though the numbers might be ugly, Roloson said he will do whatever he's asked to help Tampa Bay get back to the postseason.
"I feel good. There are just some things you can't control and other things you can. I just focus on the things that I can control and go from there,'' he said. "I just have to focus on doing whatever I can to help my team win and can't worry about anything else.''
In Tokarski, a fifth-round pick in 2008, the Lightning have an unknown commodity at the NHL level who is enjoying a strong season in his third year as a pro. The 22-year-old leads the AHL in victories and is riding an eight-game winning streak for Norfolk, posting a 1.75 goals-against average and .927 save percentage during the streak.
So, does that factor into Boucher's decision when it comes to tabbing his starter for an important game?
"It is a possibility and it's probably the best time to bring him up,'' Boucher said. "This was something that was a possibility at some point this year and I think the circumstances are giving him an opportunity at the best part of the year for him, where it matters in the NHL and at the same time the best moment in regards to his confidence.''
TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING AT WASHINGTON CAPITALS
WHERE/WHEN: Verizon Center, Washington; 7 p.m.
TV/RADIO: Sun Sports/970 AM
INJURIES: Lightning — D Mattias Ohlund (knee), RW Dana Tyrell (knee), D Marc-Andre Bergeron (back), C Vinny Lecavalier (broken hand), D Bruno Gervais (upper body), G Mathieu Garon (groin), out. Capitals — C Nicklas Backstrom (concussion), D Tom Poti (groin), out.
ALL-TIME SERIES: Tampa Bay is 34-59-11 (14-31-7 at Washington).
NEED TO KNOW: This is the fifth of six meetings this season; Tampa Bay is 2-1-1 in the first four, but 0-1-1 at Verizon Center. … RW Teddy Purcell has six goals and 14 assists during a 10-game scoring streak. … Tampa Bay trails Washington by two points in the standings. … The Lightning are 11-19-4 on the road. … The Capitals are 21-10-3 at home, but just 4-4-2 in the past 10 at Verizon Center. … Tampa Bay is last in the league in goals allowed per game (3.38).