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Cloutier begins the long road back
Doug Ward | correspondent
Oct 16, 2006, 3:27 PM EDT

A super-sized mural of Rogie Vachon overshadows Dan Cloutier as the Los Angeles Kings' new goaltender stands in a hallway outside the team's dressing room, talking about his comeback season.

The Kings have not had a true franchise goaltender since Vachon was California's first NHL superstar, back when Ronald Reagan was the state's governor. Cloutier hasn't played a full season of any consequence since 2004, so long ago that current California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger was still releasing movies — Around the World in 80 Days came out that year.

Cloutier is now with his fourth NHL team as he makes his way around the hockey world. First-year Kings GM Dean Lombardi acquired Cloutier from the Canucks in exchange for a 2007 second-round pick and a conditional draft pick in 2009, believing the 30-year-old Quebec product can bounce back from a knee injury and help solve the organization's long-running instability in goal.

A year ago, Cloutier played in just 13 games for Vancouver (8-3-1, 3.17 goals-against average) before tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.

"I was out pretty well a full year," Cloutier says. "It's very tough, especially for a goalie. The year before, we had the lockout (he played in 13 games for Klagenfurter AC of the Austrian League that season), so in the last two years I haven't played a whole lot of hockey. This year, I want to get back into it. Health is a big factor. Hopefully, I'll be able to stay healthy for a full season."

If that happens, coach Marc Crawford says Cloutier will get the majority of the starts in goal for the Kings this season. Crawford, however, says that Mathieu Garon is more like a 1A goalie as opposed to a backup, and that he will see significant playing time this season, too.

Cloutier says Crawford's planned goalie shuffle is probably for the best.

"I think all athletes want to play as many games as they can," Cloutier says. "But I'm coming off a real big injury. I think making sure I'm healthy every night is going to be a big part of it. When you tear your ACL, it's a long process. Doctors say it takes over a year."

For now, Cloutier says he's content to share the job with Garon, who played in 63 games for L.A. last year, going 31-26-3 with a 3.22 GAA.

"Everything has been fine so far," Cloutier says, although his record might suggest otherwise. He has gotten off to a sluggish start in L.A., going 1-2 with 3.34 GAA and .884 save percentage in his first three games. Garon, who is 1-1-0, with a 2.50 GAA and .922 save percentage in his first two starts, has looked better in the early going.

But Cloutier says his health is his biggest concern right now, that easing his way back makes sense, and that it's much too early to make any judgments about his comeback.

"We'll wait and see how the body feels and then go from there," Cloutier says. "They say the first six months to a year is the toughest to get over. So far it's been good, so hopefully I can build on that. At the same time, Matty (Garon) is one of the best at that position and he's going to push me, so I think we make a great tandem. Every night Marc is capable of putting a goalie in that can steal a game."

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