Penguins ask Garon to play 2 roles

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They have a history, these two.

Parts of it are good, like how Michel Therrien got his first coaching victory in the NHL by virtue of a Mathieu Garon shutout back in November 2000.

Other parts weren't, like the clashes they had occasionally while together with Montreal's minor league team in Quebec City and, later, with the Canadiens.

But, when the Penguins decided that they wanted to upgrade their goaltending by replacing backup Dany Sabourin, Therrien endorsed the idea of bringing in Garon, and Garon said any disagreements they had in the past are not relevant now.

"I don't see any problem," Garon said.

"[Therrien] is an intense coach, and it's good to be pushed. I'm older now, and maybe I understand it more. I'm more mature.

"It's not a problem at all. He knows me, and if I'm here, I'm sure he's a big part of it."

Precisely how big of a role Garon, who was acquired from Edmonton for Sabourin, minor-league forward Ryan Stone and a fourth-round draft choice, will play during the final 34 games of the regular season remains to be seen, and figures to hinge largely on how well No. 1 goalie Marc-Andre Fleury performs.

If Fleury plays well and doesn't show signs of wearing down, he will get the vast majority of the starts. But if he sputters or becomes tired, the Penguins will turn to Garon -- and do it with considerably more confidence than they had in Sabourin by the end of his time here.

"We'll play it game by game for now," goaltending coach Gilles Meloche said. "As long as [Fleury] is going well, we'll keep running him.

"We're going to use [Garon], for sure. But we're going to see how the games go."

Garon was brought in, at least in part, because management decided he could push Fleury to elevate his game, much as Ty Conklin did last season. But because he also was acquired to serve as a mentor, Garon will be in the potentially awkward position of trying to bring out the best in a guy with whom he's competing for playing time.

Garon, though, said he does not see a conflict between the two facets of his role.

"Not at all," he said. "I think you can do both without any problem. When I have a chance to play, play hard and I think that's going to push him.

"I think it's a role I'm pretty comfortable with. I can do it, no problem. He's a great kid. I'm sure I'm going to like working with him."

Meloche did similar duty in Minnesota nearly three decades ago, when he partnered with a promising young goaltender named Don Beaupre, who was about a dozen years his junior.

"I was almost 30 years old then," Meloche said. "We eased him in."

That won't be the case with Garon if Fleury's game slips out of sync.

The Penguins' bid for a playoff berth is too tenuous for them to allow too many more points to slip away.

"The name of this game is winning," Meloche said. "If [Garon] gets a chance and plays well, he'll play."

That wasn't much of an option in Edmonton, where Garon shared the crease with Dwayne Roloson and Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers. Garon appeared in just 15 games for the Oilers, but sitting so much might serve him well if, as expected, Fleury gets the bulk of the playing time here.

"I got used to not playing too much," Garon said. "I had to be sharp every time. It could be a week, two weeks. I went up to a month this year.

"It doesn't really matter, as long as you get practice time. If it's a while before I play, it's not a problem."

Garon will be an unrestricted free agent after this season. Whether the Penguins will try to re-sign him -- or whether he'll seriously consider staying -- will hinge on how things play out during the final two-plus months of the regular season. And anything that comes after that.

"I don't want to think about it," Garon said. "It's way too early. If we go far [in the playoffs] here, you never know what can happen."


NOTES -- The Penguins returned center Dustin Jeffrey to their minor team in Wilkes-Barre. He had one goal and two assists in 14 games with the Penguins.


Dave Molinari can be reached at dmolinari@post-gazette.com.


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