Mathieu Garon was in his comfort zone at Nationwide Arena Monday night. Once the Blue Jackets reached the shootout stage against the visiting Edmonton Oilers, they had to know the new goalie in town would help bank two points.
Garon, who is now 18-4 for his career in shootouts, did just that, stopping former Jacket Gilbert Brule on Edmonton's final attempt for a 3-2 CBJ win. The Oilers must have saw it coming, too. Just two seasons ago, the soft-spoken Chandler, Quebec native went a spotless 11-0 in shootouts playing for Edmonton.
While Garon's performances in the skill competition are impressive, his overall play since signing with Columbus last summer is earning him attention. He's a rock solid 4-1-0, with a .923 save percentage, 2.46 goals against average and a shutout in his first start as a Blue Jacket last month in Phoenix.
"As you grow up in the league, the more experience you get, the more mature you get," says the 31-year-old goaltender. "I know my role."
Garon's approach has been to come in, work hard in practice and earn some time. He understands that Steve Mason is the team's franchise in between the pipes and that he's simply here to win games when called upon.
"He's just a flat out pro," says head coach Ken Hitchcock. "He knows how to prepare, he knows how to play different roles on teams and he knows when he's needed."
Garon's journey in the NHL started much differently than that of his young teammate. Mason entered the league with a splash, becoming one of the biggest stories all year. Garon was drafted 44th overall by the Montreal Canadiens in 1996. He enjoyed a stellar career with the QMJHL's Victoriaville Tigres, capping his junior days as the Canadian Major Junior Goaltender of the Year for the 1997-98 season. Garon slowly moved his way up in the Montreal system but his arrival came around the same time as a young Jose Theodore was establishing himself with the Canadiens.
Garon ultimately played just 43 NHL games in Montreal but relished the opportunity to compete for the team he watched as a kid.
"Being a French guy from five hours away from there, it was a big thing getting drafted there and having a chance to play my first game there was a big moment in my life," says Garon.
Following the first trade of his NHL career, he went 44-36-9 in two respectable seasons with the Los Angeles Kings before the Oilers signed him as a free agent on July 3, 2007. Garon took the reins in that season and established himself as a solid starter and obvious shootout specialist.
"He was a real positive influence for our team," says Edmonton veteran Steve Staios, noting that Garon's uncanny ability in the shootouts went a long way for the Oilers. "He came in and played great for us and was a great teammate. He really showed his mental toughness going through some of the situations he did."
After seeing part-time duty last year, Edmonton traded Garon to Pittsburgh at the trade deadline, where he won a Stanley Cup backing up Marc-Andre Fleury.
"It was amazing to be part of it," he says. "It's hard to describe.
"I learned a lot out of it. I know what it takes to win the Cup. I know what a team needs to do and for me, I know my role.
"I want to make sure I get the chance to live it again."
Garon actually just received his Cup ring a few weeks ago. It's not exactly the kind of showpiece he would wear regularly so it's locked up in a safe.
"It's huge," Garon says with a smile. "I can't wear it."
That doesn't mean he wouldn't want another one. Garon hopes Columbus can make such a run.
Despite Mason's early struggles and injuries, the Jackets now have a one-two punch in net that breeds confidence in the organization. Mason will undoubtedly improve his numbers and Garon is the perfect complement, another big goalie (and lefty) with great skills and veteran savvy.
"We've got two guys who we count on every day," says Hitchcock. "They're a big deal on our hockey club."
The players echo that sentiment.
"We have the same feeling as when Mase is in net," Derick Brassard says of the team's mindset when Garon plays. "That's huge.
"And it's good for practice too. He tests us."
According to Garon, he's just doing his job. He knew by signing in Columbus he would get the chance to play – he just didn't know how much. Ten years of professional experience told him that he would have to earn whatever he got.
With four wins in his first five outings as Blue Jacket, he's getting respect, as well as more minutes. Garon's next start is scheduled for Saturday night, when the Jackets play at Nashville.
"The only thing I wanted to do was play well when I had the chance and I'll deserve more starts," Garon says. "That's the only way I'll play more.
"I've been feeling good lately."