Last season, the Lightning opened training camp with two goaltenders who knew each other well from previous time as teammates and had formed a friendship from their time together.
This season, the Lightning opened training camp with two goaltenders who knew each other well from previous time as teammates and had formed a friendship from their time together.
So, what changed exactly?
Well, a lot, actually, as Tampa Bay prepares to play its only home preseason game tonight against the Florida Panthers.
Last year, the combination of Mike Smith and Dan Ellis – teammates in the Dallas farm system – entered as options 1A and 1B. Though neither had shown the consistency to be a No. 1 goaltender, the idea was that competition would make both better.
This year, the combination of Dwayne Roloson and Mathieu Garon – teammates in Edmonton for more than a season – have clear-cut roles. Roloson is the top guy, and Garon is the backup.
That's not to say they won't push each other, that the situation will remain the same throughout the season or that Roloson will play twice as many games as Garon, but there is no mystery, because both goaltenders are established veterans.
"It's goaltending that has a lot of experience," Lightning coach Guy Boucher said. "Both goaltenders have seen a lot. Both have played with different teams, and I think, right now on paper, we have goaltending that is supposed to be stable. But that's on paper. If they do what they are supposed to do, if they are who they normally are, we should have stable goaltending to start the year, and that usually makes a difference.''
The first half of last season, the Lightning won despite their goaltending. Although Tampa Bay led the Southeast division in late December, the tandem of Smith and Ellis was last in the league statistically. That inconsistency led the Lightning pull off a New Year's Day trade with the New York Islanders to acquire Roloson, who became the backbone of the team's run to the Eastern Conference final.
With Roloson and Garon paired up to start this season, the Lightning hope the consistency will be there from the start.
"Dwayne Roloson has been in the league a long time, and we know who he is and what he is. The same with Mathieu, so I think things should be a little more stable,'' Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman said. "Now, as things worked out last year, by the end of the year our goaltending was pretty darn good.
"But we go (into the season) with good solid pros. They are veterans. I've played against them both and seen them both play enough to know what to expect.''
PANTHERS AT LIGHTNING
Tonight: Preseason game, 7:30 p.m.;
TV: None; Radio: 970 AM