Oilers’ well dries up without Roloson

Hockey, like most sports, is as much a mind game as it is a physical battle. Teams can win with skill, but even skilled teams can be brought down when faced with a mental disadvantage. When Dwayne Roloson, Edmonton Oilers goaltender, went down with a crippling knee injury in the third period of Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals against the Carolina Hurricanes such a mental disadvantage was created.

The Oilers blamed goaltending–though never uttered in the media by coach or player–throughout the regular season for not living up to the expectations brought on by the enormous offseason acquisitions of Mike Peca and Chris Pronger. Outshooting opponents handily, the Oilers were losing winnable games until the trade deadline brought Roloson. It took a while for the team to become acquainted with Roloson’s style of play, but they began to live up to their potential as they marched to the finals, knocking off the Detroit Red Wings, San Jose Sharks and Anaheim Mighty Ducks along the way.

The loss of Roloson goes beyond the loss of a hot goaltender. With backup goaltender and Game 2 starter Jussi Markkanen in net, the team can’t play with the same confidence that brought them to the finals. Now they live with the fear of making mistakes or committing penalties leading to easy goals. Instead of just reacting, the players must now contemplate every move and in a fast-paced sport like hockey, even a split-second of hesitation can be costly. Carolina Hurricanes Captain Rod Brind’amour’s game winning goal in Game 1 is proof.

The puck went behind the net with less than a minute left to play in Game 1 and Oilers replacement goaltender Ty Conklin went behind to play the puck. He hesitated and chose to throw the puck around the boards. What he didn’t realize was Oilers defenseman Jason Smith was right behind him, and the puck bounced off his stick to Brind’amour, who then easily placed the puck into an empty net. Game over.

Further evidence comes from the fallen Calgary Flames. In regular season games started by back-up goaltenders Phillippe Sauve and Brian Boucher, the Flames allowed an average of 3.89 goals per game and scored an average 3.33 goals per game compared to their overall season average of 2.35 goals-against per game and 2.63 goals-for. Though the increased offense should’ve been a blessing, considering the inefficient scoring ultimately led to the first-round exit of the Flames, it is proof the Flames were taking more chances in order to offset a lack of confidence in their goaltender. They were hoping the goals-for could offset the few soft goals-against the back-ups would let in.

Even as a hardcore Flames fan and Oilers hater, it’s hard not to feel the pain of the Oilers losing their number one goaltender so close to the Stanley Cup. With Roloson, it would’ve been plausible, but not enjoyable, that the Oilers would be the first team since the 1993 Montreal Canadiens to bring the Cup back to Canada, but now those hopes are more trashed than White Avenue will be after Brind’amour and his Hurricanes hoist Lord Stanley’s prize.

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