Cam Talbot’s career with the Edmonton Oilers is off to a bad start. He has in general played poorly and of late has been surpassed by Anders Nilsson, whose impression of a league-average goaltender is the best netminding the Oilers have seen since the days of Devan Dubnyk.
Let’s not count him out just yet, though.
Remember the horrid starts that Boston and Columbus had this year? Much of the blame for those starts must fall at the feet of those teams’ established NHL goalies. Let’s compare the first 13 games this season for Tuukka Rask and Sergei Bobrovsky with the 13 games that Talbot has played:
- Rask: 5-7-1, 0.890 save percentage
- Talbot: 3-8-1, 0.889 save percentage
- Bobrovsky: 4-9-0, 0.882 save percentage
Rask and Bobrovsky both retained their starting positions, and both have seen their play improve. The reason for that is that the Bruins and Blue Jackets have seen enough strong play from both goalies that they’re willing to give them time to find their games. Talbot though is a first-year starter and doesn’t get the same consideration from the Oilers.
This also isn’t particularly out of line with what Talbot did last season. Henrik Lundqvist went down to injury on February 2, thrusting Talbot into the starting role. Talbot posted a 0.895 save percentage in his first nine games in the job, allowing three-or-more goals in seven of those contests and posting a 0.900 save percentage or lower in eight of them.
People don’t remember that, for two reasons. The first is that New York was able to out-score its problems; Talbot went 6-1-2 while he found his feet as a starting goalie. The second is that Talbot was great the rest of the way. He posted a shutout against the Flames in his next start and went 10-3-1 with a 0.950 save percentage in the next 14 games he played while Lundqvist healed.
Edmonton needs to start winning games, and right now Nilsson is giving the team its best shot at doing that. He has a respectable if not overwhelming 0.911 save percentage on the season, and a reasonably good 5-6-1 record. With decent goaltending, the Oilers have been competitive and head coach Todd McLellan has to go with the goalie who gives him that.
However, it’s a long season, and Talbot is going to work his way into games here and there. He took a modest first step in an overtime loss to Detroit on Friday; he wasn’t great but it was his best game in a while and he helped the Oilers to a point. He’s going to keep getting those chances, playing in back-to-back situations or in other games where McLellan wants to rest his starter.
Talbot needs to make the most of those chances. This is a talented guy, a backup who managed to keep pace with Henrik Lundqvist in New York, a goalie with a career 0.924 save percentage over 70 major-league games. His resume entering the year was vastly superior to Nilsson’s, and if that’s really reflective of his true level of ability then it should show at some point during the year. It’s worth keeping in mind that Talbot’s history as a backup works in his favour; he knew how to make the most of his infrequent appearances in New York and now needs to do the same in Edmonton if he’s to get another crack at the starting job.
Right now, Nilsson has earned the starting job and will be given an opportunity to run with it, just as Talbot was to start the year. But Edmonton’s goaltending competition is a long way from over.