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Goalie bemoans inconsistency

John Grahame's stats aren't bad, but he hasn't been a Lightning savior.

By TOM JONES
Published November 8, 2005


MONTREAL - The most monumental day of the Lightning's 2005-06 season might actually have occurred two months before the season began.

On Aug. 5, Nikolai Khabibulin, the goalie who backstopped the Lightning's run through the 2004 playoffs, signed a free-agent deal with the Blackhawks, leaving the Lightning's defensive fortunes on the shoulders of John Grahame.

Could Grahame, who had never been a true No. 1 goalie, handle the job? That was the big question as the Lightning prepared for its Cup defense.

Now 15 games into the season, that question remains unanswered. And because it remains unanswered, the goaltending has grown into a concern.

"I have to be more consistent night in and night out," Grahame said. "And I haven't been."

In 12 starts, Grahame is 5-6 (plus a shootout loss) with a 2.79 goals-against average and an .897 save percentage. Those numbers are not spectacular, but not bad either. That pretty much describes Grahame's play: not great, not bad, sometimes good, occasionally shaky and, too often, inconsistent.

The Lightning skates into Montreal tonight with a three-game losing streak and a myriad of problems. Among them: goaltending. Grahame appears to be running on empty after starting 12 of the first 15 games and playing the past four after a groin injury to Sean Burke.

While Burke's day-to-day status continues to last longer and longer, the Lightning keeps turning to an exhausted Grahame, who said he feels fine physically. The Lightning might even go with rookie Brian Eklund tonight just to give the 30-year-old Grahame time to fill his tank, but then again, even when fresh, Grahame has not played to his expectations.

"I wouldn't say (my confidence is) shaken, but I don't feel good about the way things have happened," Grahame said.

It's hard to blame Grahame for any losses. But he hasn't outright won any games either.

"The goalie is in a unique position to change the game by himself by making a timely save or making that big save or 10 big saves," Grahame said. "You could make nine big saves and play a great game and you let the 10th one in, that's not good enough."

That's what happened in an early-season loss to Florida when Grahame played superbly for 58 minutes then gave up a shoddy goal that led to a loss. In recent losses to Atlanta and Ottawa, Grahame allowed a couple of soft goals, then couldn't make any big saves in a loss to Toronto.

"Sometimes the team needs you to make 10 out of 10 (saves) instead of nine out of 10," Grahame said. "That is what can get you over that hump and get a team out of a little bit of a slump. I haven't been able to do that, and that's what is frustrating. That's just the nature of the job. You've got to be able to live with that and handle that."

Meantime, coach John Tortorella refused to point the finger solely at Grahame for the team's recent struggles.

"We need bigger saves at bigger times, but it's not just Johnny Grahame's fault," Tortorella said. "Yes, our goaltending needs to be better, but it goes along with everything else. Everything else needs to be better. This is a team sport. It's a team game. Our goaltending has to be better along with a number of other things in our game."

Perhaps the best sign is Grahame isn't fooling himself into thinking he's playing better than he is. If anything, he's taking all the blame even though the team, as a whole, has been inconsistent.

"When you're playing a lot, it has to come down to your shoulders," Grahame said. "If we're getting some bad bounces or we're not scoring as much as we would like or whatever, the goalie has to be there. I haven't been able to do that, and that's what is frustrating."

"You can say, "Keep working, it'll come,"' Grahame said. "But, eventually, you have to make it come. That's what being a goalie is."