There was a time when Edmonton Oilers
goalie Mathieu Garon
would cringe at the thought of entering a shootout. Today, he and his teammates revel in the opportunity to entertain a little fan-friendly, one-on-one confrontation.
That’s because no other team in the three seasons since the inception of the NHL shootout has ever attained greater success than the Oilers this season. On Tuesday, Edmonton broke an NHL record with its 13th shootout win in a 4-3 decision over the NHL-leading Detroit Red Wings. The Oilers (29-30-5), now 13-3 in shootouts, surpassed the previous standard held by the Dallas Stars, who went 12-1 during the shootout’s inaugural season of 2005-06.
Garon has been the undeniable Sultan of Shootouts, going 9-0 in the added frames while allowing just two goals on 29 shots. Even Oilers coach Craig MacTavish couldn’t resist the temptation of admitting; “One goal is normally enough in a shootout with Mathieu in net.’’ It was only three seasons ago, however, the native of Chandler, Quebec, was struggling to find his shootout groove in the American Hockey League with the Manchester Monarchs.
”I remember during the lockout (2004-05), they were experimenting with shootouts in the minors and I lost five or six games, so it wasn’t so much fun,’’ Garon told NHL.com. “But, of course, when you’re winning, you really get to like it. I’m always rooting for a shootout even when I’m watching a game. If it’s tied, 2-2, I want to see a shootout. I like to see a team win.’’
Garon’s focus is unflappable once the game reaches its ultimate climax.
”I’m not really thinking about winning or losing in the first two rounds, since there’s still a ways to go,’’ Garon said. “We’ve generally never gone past five rounds because someone is always scoring for us. I don’t really have a favorite save or shootout sequence this season, but I’m always trying to be patient. I guess making that save where I’m square to the shooter are the ones I like the most because I feel like I read and anticipated really well.’’
The Oilers have needed just three shootout rounds or fewer in seven of Garon’s nine victories. Vancouver is the only team to have any measure of success against Garon, extending the 30-year-old goalie to a five-inning shootout on Nov. 20 and a four-rounder on Dec. 15. Additionally, Vancouver’s Ryan Kesler and Trevor Linden, a former teammate of Garon’s in Montreal (2000-01), are the only players to celebrate scores against him. Garon was also the beneficiary of three pucks that clanged off the post.
”Sometimes I’m beat and the shooter will hit the post, so it’s not like those were the only two players to beat me this year,’’ Garon said. “A few other guys have beaten me, but I got lucky and they missed the net. I couldn’t put a finger on why those Vancouver players are the only ones to score, but even if I knew, I’m not going to tell you.’’
Oilers rookie center Sam Gagner, one of three Oilers (Shawn Horcoff and Ales Hemsky being the others) to connect for five shootout goals this winter, said Garon instills confidence.
”You see some of the stops he makes and it definitely lights a fire under you to the point you want to go in there and score to help out,’’ said Gagner, who has a League-leading 15 shootout attempts. “It definitely gives you a lot of confidence knowing that, if you score, you’re going to give your team a chance to win because Matt’s been exceptional.’’
Oilers right wing Robert Nilsson, who scored the lone shootout goal against Detroit’s Chris Osgood on Tuesday, labeled Garon “one of the best shootout players in the world.’’
Garon, who has played with three clubs in his six NHL seasons, signed a two-year contract with Edmonton last summer. The investment is paying off nicely as Garon has become a fan favorite, in addition to going 21-16-1 with a 2.51 goals-against average and 92 percent save percentage.
"You see some of the stops he makes and it definitely lights a fire under you to the point you want to go in there and score to help out" - Sam Gagner on goalie Mathieu Garon
”It’s all about confidence,’’ said Garon. “After winning the first two or three shootouts, the whole team began getting better and better and, with it, more confident. It’s at a point right now where we’re going into shootouts feeling as though we have a pretty good chance of winning every time.’’
Despite his success, Garon is quick to point out that Dwayne Roloson (8-14-4, 3.15 GAA), who is 4-3 in shootouts and has yielded six goals in 30 attempts, has also done a commendable job. Roloson was penned as Edmonton’s starter prior to the season, but Garon’s play forced MacTavish’s hand.
”Dwayne has been a gentleman the whole year,’’ Garon said. “I know it’s not easy being in his situation right now, but he’s been helping me and he’s always there. I knew coming in that I would play backup for a little while, but that if I played well enough, they would play me more. Things have gone a lot quicker than I expected but I’m really happy.’’
While Gagner, 18, considers it an honor to have established a new League record, he and Garon would be disappointed if the team fails to qualify for postseason play. Edmonton is currently 14th in the Western Conference, nine points behind eighth-seeded Colorado.
”It’s great to set the record and the shootout wins have kept us within reach of a playoff spot,’’ Gagner said. “Obviously, if we lost 13 shootouts we would certainly be in a lot tougher predicament than we are right now. So, I guess we’ll have to concentrate on finishing the deal in regulation a little more, but we do have a lot of confidence going into shootouts. We feel if we can put in one or two goals, our goalie gives us a good chance.’’
Said Garon: “It’s nice to get this record because it’s something positive, but it’s not something you play for. You play to win and make the playoffs and if we don’t accomplish that, it’ll be disappointing.’’
Contact Mike Morreale at email@example.com.