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Success for goal-starved Oilers may rest in hands of new backup goalie Garon @NHL

EDMONTON - For a goal-starved team that couldn't hit the broad side of a Zamboni last season, success in 07-08 may, strangely enough, ultimately reside not up front but in new backup puckstopper Mathieu Garon.

The 29-year-old free agent acquisition was the difference in the Edmonton Oilers' pre-season win Tuesday over the Toronto Maple Leafs.

And the six-year NHL veteran, known for his whip-fast right-hand glove, will play 60 minutes Thursday night in Vancouver, said head coach Craig MacTavish.

"He effectively got us the two points," said MacTavish Wednesday, a day after the Oilers' 3-2 overtime victory at Rexall Place.

With the game knotted 1-1 late in the second period, Garon snagged a Wade Belak deflection out of the air and a minute later slid his pad across the crease to rob Darcy Tucker on a point-blank one-timer from the slot.

"That's the big save that you need," said MacTavish of Garon, who will replace Jussi Markannen this season as Dwayne Roloson's backup.

"Jussi was consistently average. Not a knock on Jussi, but I could live with a little inconsistency with more high-end games.

"(Garon) is capable of giving us that higher-end game."

In July, the Oilers signed Garon, an unrestricted free agent, to a two-year deal that will pay him US$1.2 million a year.

Drafted by Montreal 44th overall in 1996, Garon was traded to Los Angeles in 2004 in the deal that brought goalie Cristobal Huet to the Habs.

His high point was 63 starts in 2005-06, but last year he lost a quarter of the season to, first, a groin injury, then a finger injury and became part of a multi-headed goaltending carousel that allowed a nightmarish 283 goals.

"I got injured twice while I was playing good. But sometimes things happen for a reason and I know I'm here for a good reason," said Garon, striding into the Oilers locker-room after practice, still wearing his purple-and-black Kings mask, illustrated with a sword-wielding knight and chess pieces. (The Oiler one is on the way).

He finished 13-10-6 with a 2.66 goals against average, a .907 save percentage and two shutouts, and two months later, the Oilers came calling.

"It's always good to know an organization wants you. That's how I felt when they called a few times on July 1st."

Garon - born in Chandler, Que. and raised in Rimouski, a fan of the Nordiques but a devotee of Patrick Roy - is being counted on to give more rest to Roloson.

Roloson, who turns 38 next month, absorbed an unprecedented amount of vulcanized rubber last season during the Oilers' spectacular fall from the Western Conference championship, a season that saw them score a league-low 195 goals and miss the playoffs.

He started 66 games and came on in relief in two more in a career that had never seen him start more than 50 in a single campaign.

His numbers were admirable (2.75 goals against average, 27 wins and .909 save percentage) but he began to break down after playing in all but four of the Oilers' first 36 games.

By December he slumped and the team soon fell apart around him. He lost five in a row in one stretch and saw his save percentage spiral down to .750.

MacTavish said Rolson had a lot more jump late last season after Markannen spelled him for a few games. This season, he envisions a 50-32 split and that Roloson will adapt: "He's a pro. I haven't given that any thought, nor do I plan to."

Notes: Sheldon Souray, the Oilers big-name defensive acquisition, will play in Vancouver. He has been out of action since injuring his back lifting weights on the first day of campa Forward Anson Carter is still being assessed after sustaining a concussion in a ferocious hit by Belak Tuesday.

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