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Tampa adds veteran Roloson to overcrowded crease

Tampa adds veteran Roloson to overcrowded crease

New Tampa Bay Goalie Dwayne Roloson

New Tampa Bay goaltender Dwayne Roloson wasn't comfortable on his knees like in this paddle-down technique during his early pro years as a stand-up, kick-save goalie. (Scott Slingsby photo)

Among the many unique twists and ironies surrounding the Tampa Bay Lightning’s acquisition of Dwayne Roloson is his familiarity with the complexities of the dreaded three-goalie rotation.

In fact, Roloson was mired in such a situation in Edmonton in 2008-09 when InGoal Magazine last sat down for an in-depth chat about the state of both his game and goaltending in general.

Among the insights gleaned that day are some of the lesser-known assets Roloson now brings to Tampa Bay after being acquired from the Islanders late Saturday in exchange for young defensive prospect Ty Wishart, things beyond an impressive .916 save percentage with the Islanders this season, or two trips to the Stanley Cup Finals, first as Dominic Hasek’s backup in Buffalo in 1999 and then as Edmonton’s No.1 in 2006.

Chief among them after 17 years of professional hockey and a long, sometimes difficult path to full-time NHL employment is not getting hung up mentally on things that are out of his control.

“I try not to worry about things like playing time anymore,” said Roloson, who just two seasons after leading the Oilers to the Stanley Cup Finals found himself stuck in an uncomfortable ride-the-hot-hand three-way with Mathieu Garon and Jeff Deslauriers. “I used to worry about it day in and day out in, but now I don’t. I just take the opportunity when I get to play and play.”

That will come in handy in Tampa Bay, where Roloson joins an interesting mix.

At least it’s only three goalies now. The Lightning sent Cedrick Desjardins back to AHL Norfolk after acquiring Roloson late Saturday, which was also moments after the energetic rookie followed up a “Hollywood” NHL debut with an impressive 34-save win over the New York Rangers.

That leaves Tampa Bay with Roloson and Dan Ellis for now, and pledging to keep all three goalies around when Mike Smith returns from a MCL sprain in the next seven to 10 days.

Just as Philadelphia goalie coach Jeff Reese told InGoal last week that the experience of veterans Brian Boucher and Michael Leighton makes them better equipped to handle the Flyers’ extra-goalie rotation than young Russian rookie Sergei Bobrovsky, Roloson’s history of trying to cram three goalies into two nets should also make it easier for continue to play well in less-than-ideal circumstances.

So should Roloson’s long history of having to split time, whether it was earlier in his career as a backup, or in job shares with Manny Fernandez in Minnesota and Rick Dipietro with the Islanders this season, in which he posted an impressive .916 save percentage and was recently named the NHL’s First Star of the week. Roloson’s time in Minnesota behind the Jacques Lemaire-coached Wild from 2001 to 2006 will also help with the transition back to a team giving up the fewest shots in the league at 27.5 a game.

Struggling to make that adjustment was one reason Smith cited for the Lightning having some of the worst puck-stopping statistics, a fact pointed out often in the media in recent weeks amid speculation Tampa Bay might sign free agent Evgeni Nabokov after he defected back from Russia’s KHL.

Mike Smith Goalie Tampa Bay Lightning

Tampa Bay goalie Mike Smith has struggled seeing fewer shots this season. (Photo by Scott Slingsby)

“The biggest thing is we don’t get feeler shots,” Smith recently told InGoal for an Ask A Pro segment. “That’s hard as a goalie. You go 10, 12 minutes without a shot and then all of a sudden there is a 2-on-1, or a breakdown that leads to a quality scoring chance. You look at the numbers and this team doesn’t favor a save percentage because we give up 15, 20 shots a game and yet eight to 10 of them might be in the slot shot or 2-on-1?s. And I think Elly and I have struggled with it a little bit.

“We’ve heard all the media talk about the goalie situation in Tampa and we can’t worry about that – it’s a different system for us. We’ve never been on teams that have played like this, I’ve never been on a team that gives up this few shots and it’s a mental challenge for a goaltender.”

It’s a challenge Roloson, one of just 11 NHL goalies to play past age 41, should be up for.

How the situation plays out in the long term should be interesting. Clearly the Lightning are impressed by Desjardins, and he has a long history with first-year head coach Guy Boucher, who praised the youngster’s mental toughness before giving him a second-straight start ahead of Ellis Saturday.

While neither has overwhelming statistics, Smith (10-5-0 with a .883 save percentage and 3.20 goals-against average) seemed to be making positive strides adjusting to first year goalie coach Frantz Jean, giving up just one goal while winning each of his last two starts before getting hurt.

Smith looks more under control playing a bit deeper after he used to chase the play too aggressively for a 6-foot-4 goalie. It’s a similar adjustment to the one Roberto Luongo is making in Vancouver under new coach Roland Melanson, who works with Jean in the summers at ProTek Goaltending schools.

But Smith, like Roloson, will be an unrestricted free agent in July, while Ellis (11-6-5 with a .886 and 3.02) is under contract for another season at $1.5 million. But the same depth adjustments didn’t take as well with the 6-foot-1 Ellis, who like a lot of goalies that work with Mitch Korn in Nashville, relied more on quickness on his skates before coming to Tampa. He struggled with the depth, was dropping to his knees too soon, and got beat regularly overusing VH or one-pad down early in the season.

But Ellis told the St. Petersburg Times three days ago he was feeling better about his positioning.

“It’s a night and day difference,” Ellis told the Times. “I was playing the whole first half of the season thinking about where I was. I started out being deep, then I went out high, then I just said, ‘You know what, I can’t play where I’m not used to.’ So I got back to playing my own distances and stuff. You know where the pucks are around you. When you’re deeper, you have further to reach.

Tampa Bay Lightning Goalie Dan Ellis

Tampa Bay Lightning Goalie Dan Ellis has struggled to manage his depth this season. (Photo by Scott Slingsby)

“When you’re further out, you have less to reach. When you’re changing that, it’s a huge adjustment that people don’t think of and you don’t always get the results you want. So I’ve been getting back to my comfort zone in positioning and stuff and have felt a lot better and been able to put up better results.”

Ellis also talked in that same article about finally finding a rhythm by playing more with Smith out. Of course that was before Desjardins started consecutive games. And the chances of starting that steadily diminish even further with Roloson on board and Smith back soon.

Roloson, meanwhile, knows how to handle down time, but Jean will need to be careful if he plans any depth changes with a veteran goalie two years older than him. Roloson may have started his pro career learning a down game from Melanson in the AHL, he refined it under Minnesota goaltending coach Bob Mason, going back to a more on-the-skates approach and playing more aggressively atop his crease.

When a three-goalie rotation leaves him with extra time, that movement and positioning are his focus.

“Your movement is the biggest asset you have and as soon as you lose your movement, it hinders your ability to play in the net,” Roloson said after staying out late that day with the Oilers to work on his technique. (Roloson also spent time working with Edmonton’s forwards, talking them through shootouts and other drills while trying to help them figure out how to score against most butterfly goalies, a sign that despite a sometimes-prickly appearance and reputation among outsiders, he is a good teammate).

“When you are not in the net on a regular basis that’s the first thing that goes because goalies tend to get lazy and don’t work too hard and the reverse has to happen – you’ve got to work hard and you got to work on your movement all the time. You just try to take advantage of all the down time.”

Clearly Tampa Bay is counting on Roloson not having too much of it. But the other two goalies will, and knowing how to make the most of it could go a long way to determining which one stays.

About The Author

Kevin Woodley

Kevin Woodley is a rec-league target and former contributing editor of the Goalie News magazine. He has written about the Vancouver Canucks and NHL for The Associated Press, USA Today, Sports Illustrated and The Hockey News for the last decade, and covered the 2010 Olympics for The AP.

1 Comment

  1. Kris

    Now with Roloson in town I would think the crease isn’t going to be as crowded. Not sure what Tampas plans are but Ellis and Smith have been mediocre at best.