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Roloson making a difference for Lightning

by John Kreiser
Think Tampa Bay GM Steve Yzerman had done a little research before he acquired Dwayne Roloson from the Islanders a couple of weeks ago? Given Roloson's past, you can be sure he did.

Before Roloson's arrival, the Lightning had been outscored 12-3 in losing both meetings with Washington this season, and had won just two of their last 19 games against the Caps. But Roloson had been 6-4-3 against Washington during his career, with a pair of shutouts and a 2.41 goals-against average -- pretty good when you're talking about playing against the highest-scoring team in the NHL over the past four seasons.

To say Roloson has made a difference for the Bolts against Washington would be an understatement. The 41-year-old made his Tampa Bay debut against the Caps on Jan. 4, then faced them again eight days later -- and not only did Tampa Bay win both games, but Roloson didn't allow a goal in either game. Those two shutouts in eight days were as many as the Bolts had in their first 96 meetings with Washington since entering the NHL in 1992.

In all, Roloson went 3-1-0 in his first four games with the Lightning, allowing just one goal in the three wins.

The Lightning and Caps play twice more this season. You can bet that, barring injury, Roloson will be in the crease for both.

Slow starters -- It's no secret the Capitals aren't the offensive juggernaut they were a season ago. One area in which their decline in goal-scoring has been most noticeable is their struggle to get on the board first.

The Caps were among the NHL's best teams last season at getting the game's first goal and translating that early advantage into points. Washington scored first 52 times in 82 games last season, second only to Chicago's 56, and went 38-7-7 in those games.

But this season has been a marked turnaround. Entering Friday's game against Vancouver, the Caps had allowed the first goal 27 times in 44 games, the most of any team in the NHL, and only three more than all last season. They lead the NHL with 12 wins when allowing the first goal, and their .444 winning percentage (12-12-3) is second, but their 17 first goals are in the bottom five in the League and the fewest by any team holding a top-eight spot in either conference.

Tough to play catch-up -- Teams that lead after two periods rarely go home empty-handed -- about 87 percent of teams that enter the final 20 minutes with a lead win the game, and only about five percent have lost in regulation so far this season.

Thus, the key is not to be a great comeback team, it's not to be trailing after two periods. The New Jersey Devils have been among the NHL's best at it -- until this season.

The Devils enter Friday's game at Tampa Bay having entered the third period trailing their opponents a League-high 27 times in 42 games, and lost 25 of those games, also the most in the NHL. The 25 losses are the most in a full season for the Devils since they were 0-31-3 in 1992-93, the season before Martin Brodeur joined them full-time. They've already trailed after two periods more than they did all last season -- they were behind entering the third period just 26 times in all of 2009-10.

New Jersey has been excellent when leading after two periods -- it hasn't lost in regulation and failed to come away with two points just once. The problem is the Devils have taken a lead into the final period a League-low eight times. In contrast, Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia has led after two periods 25 times in 43 games while trailing through 40 minutes only 11 times.

M(ac)-V-P? -- If a player's value to his team is defined by what happens when he's not in the lineup, then New York Islanders defenseman Andrew MacDonald has a good case for team MVP -- even though he hasn't scored a goal all season.

The Islanders got off to a 4-1-2 start when MacDonald went down with a broken right hand. In the 15 games he missed, New York was 1-11-3 (the Isles were winless in the first 14 before beating New Jersey 2-0 on Nov. 26). Since his return, they are 8-10-2, including 8-4-2 in their last 14 games, giving them a 12-11-4 mark with him in the lineup.

Unfortunately for the Islanders, MacDonald can't play defense during shootouts. The Islanders have lost four of five post-overtime tie-breakers this season, mostly because their goaltenders haven't done the job. Opposing shooters have scored 10 times in 16 tries, a 62.5-percent success rate that's nearly double the League rate of 32.4 percent.

Low five -- There's no official line in the NHL Guide and Record Book for the player who was in the penalty box for the most goals in a game -- but if there were, it might well belong to Atlanta forward Ben Eager.

Eager was in the box for all five of Toronto's power-play goals Jan. 7 as the Leafs beat the Thrashers 9-3 at Philips Arena. Four of the five came during a 3:32 span after Eager was assessed a match penalty, giving the Leafs a five-minute power play.

The nine goals were the most by any team this season, as were the five power-play goals. The Leafs also matched the NHL season high for goals in a period with six.
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