WWYDW: The Goaltending Battle

Todd McLellan9

The Edmonton Oilers enter the Christmas break with an uncertain situation in net. Cam Talbot, brought in to start for the team, struggled for a while and lost the job but has been better recently. Anders Nilsson, his ostensible backup, stole the job with hot play but has cooled off dramatically since.

In this week’s edition of What Would You Do Wednesday, we ask which of the two you’d have penciled in as starter if you were head coach Todd McLellan.

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If we break the play of the goaltenders up into five-game segments, it makes it easier to see the trends.

Cam Talbot has started 15 games (he also came on in relief against the Capitals on October 23, stopping eight of nine shots faced). Here’s what his performance looks like in the games he’s started:

  • First five starts: 2-3-0, 0.920 save percentage
  • Second five starts: 1-4-0, 0.867 save percentage
  • Third five starts: 2-2-1, 0.921 save percentage

Talbot started well, then lost the script and his job in a span of about five games in late October/early November. That span is mostly covered in the second five-game segment, and outside of that brief run he’s actually been everything the Oilers could have wanted. Unfortunately for him and the team, that second five-game segment represents a full third of his time with the team.

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What about Anders Nilsson?

  • First five starts: 2-3-0, 0.911 save percentage
  • Second five starts: 2-2-1, 0.904 save percentage
  • Third five starts: 3-2-0, 0.943 save percentage
  • Fourth five starts: 3-2-0, 0.876 save percentage

Nilsson provided competent backup-level play over his first five starts. That was enough to win him his second five starts; Talbot was visibly struggling and while Nilsson wasn’t great in this second segment his numbers were dragged down by a November 12 start against Arizona—his second in two games—and otherwise he was decent. He caught fire then in his third segment and made it impossible for McLellan to go back to Talbot. Of late he’s cooled off considerably.

On the season, Nilsson is at 10-9-1 with a 0.910 save percentage; that compares to Talbot’s 5-9-1 with a 0.904 save percentage.

Who Should it Be?

Cam Talbot

Obviously, the schedule ahead will be dictated by performance, but the question right now is which of the two goaltenders should get first crack at the job. Despite Nilsson’s slightly superior numbers on the season, I tend to favour Talbot. As I noted late last month, he initially had trouble finding his way as an NHL starter after Lundqvist went down to injury in New York but in the end played spectacularly well; it’s not hard to see the parallel there.

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For me, this is about history. Talbot got his shot at starting minutes after a very strong AHL season and then two strong NHL campaigns; that’s four years’ worth of work to get a chance at a No. 1 job that he lost due to what was essentially five bad games. Nilsson, in contrast, got an opportunity to battle for the backup job in training camp after a great KHL season with a team which tends to make its goalies look good. That came on the heels of a failed first North American stint with the Islanders.

That doesn’t mean Nilsson can’t win the starting job. It does mean that when I weigh the balance of evidence, I see it favouring Talbot, and consequently he’d be the guy I’d lean towards in those first few games after the Christmas break.

As always, though, WWYDW isn’t about my opinion, it’s about yours. Looking at these two players, which do you see as the likely winner of this goaltending battle?


  • T.J.F.M.

    I wouldn’t stick with either one of them, as the true starter. I would continue to go with the hot hand and the starter for each game would be decided by who played the best (or won) the game before.

    Right now, Talbot starts the next game. And continues to do so until he lays an egg. Then Nilsson gets another crack.

    I realize at some point, one of them has to take the bull by the horns, but neither one of them has shown consistency through the first (almost) half of the season.

    If im playing to win, i continue to rotate goaltenders and see if one of them can pull off another streak of amazing play like Nilsson did earlier this month.

  • Kr55

    Both guys at their best, Talbot is better for sure. Only issue is Talbot’s confidence seems to be more fragile. If he can fix that as he matures into the #1 role, then we’re set. And there is no reason to think he can’t still mature. This year is his first time dealing with this level of pressure. He bent, but based on his recent play, he didn’t break. Good learning experience for him, and we’re lucky Nilsson was able to play as well as he did to give Talbot the time to get his head straight.

  • Spydyr

    Talbot on Saturday. Then Nilsson on Sunday in Calgary.
    Depending on that we see who gets Tuesday.
    Talbot has the edge now, that performance against Winnipeg was beautiful, stole us two very valuable points.

    • cityofchampions

      Exactly what should happen. They’ve both played well enough lately that you don’t play them in back-to-back games when you have 3rd in 4 nights coming up. Play Talbot first (reward for Winnipeg) then Nilsson and then decide who goes on Tuesday from those performances. I hope Talbot continues from where he left off and therefore earns the bulk of the games going forward, but if Nilsson can play every 4 games or so, including on back-to-backs, and gives us a chance to win while resting Talbot for the playoff drive, so much the better.

      And can I say how refreshing it is to actually have confidence in two goalies, and to finally be able to make goalies earn their starts, rather than switching from one to the other in desperation hoping that one will suck less than the other.

  • tileguy

    Before penciling in either of them, I would do my best to lock both of them up for the next few years at reasonable money. While having a solid number one is great, plenty of teams thrive with a duo: Greiss / Halak, Elliot / Allen,
    Anderson / Gibson, Niemi / Lehtonen, Anderson / Hammond.

    It means a guy can go on a run, then if he cools off, another guy gets a shot to prove he’s ready to go on a solid streak, maybe for the rest of the season.

    I think the last few years of Edmonton have shown that the defence is the team’s largest weakness. As they improve so too will the goal tending. So getting them under contract now while their numbers are shaky enough to book em for lower money should be a huge priority.

    But in response to the question, Nillson looks to be the higher risk higher reward style goalie, but Talbot has had two absolute door slammer performances recently. I’d say let Talbot run with those games until he runs out of gas.

  • tileguy

    I would like to try Yakupov with 4 & 29, Purcell with McD and keep nuge, ebbs poo together. oooooops wrong thread, my apologies but after seeing the first number of responses leaning towards “play the hot hand” I couldn’t resist.

  • Jay (not J)

    I don’t think that this has quite finished playing out. I think that PC should try and resign Talbot before the deadline, but he should have a ceiling in mind and he should move the player if the deal won’t get done. Talbot is goalie A right now but there’s no need to send him Katz’s firstborn to keep him. Same as Nilsson who PC can be pickier about because he’ll be RFA not UFA. I’ve liked both of these guys at points this year, but still believe that money is better spent on improving the defence than making sure that they’re both (or either of them ) back next season.

  • tileguy

    Talbot lost his confidence when he let in that goal post goal against the flames.

    Since then he has rebounded quite well. That is now water under the bridge.

    I would give him he next start against Vancouver then switch to Nilsson due to the back to back.

  • Oilers-Entourage

    Talbot is a UFA and Nilsson is a RFA and LB has this year and next where he does not have be exposed to the waiver wire.

    We need to understand if we should extend a contract to Talbot, he will be looking for a raise from the $1.4M he is making now.

    I would play Talbot as long as he is winning to determine IF he can be THE goalie. If he can be THE goalie offer 3 years at 2.5/3M.

    Play Nilsson as if he is the best back up in the league …back to back games and bottom half the league’s teams.

    Bring LB up for 3-5 games if we fall out of the play-off race

  • tileguy

    Go with Talbot because he’s hot now. When he cools off, maybe Nilsson will be ready to step it up.

    Sign Talbot for reasonable 2-3 years.
    Nilsson, I believe is on year one of two, so he’s good for now. Broissant has to be getting closer.

    None of these goalies has proven to be a number 1 goalie in the NHL. It may take a while but maybe one of the other will go the next step. The coaching staff must know who they like best and I think a lot might have to do with attitude. From the outside, I’m impressed with Talbot so far.

  • Oilers-Entourage

    Talbot seems to be back in top form. Go with him for the next start.

    Nilsson can be a shut out machine so rotate him in evenly on the road trips or home 2 in 2 nights.

    Fuhr / Moog all over again.

    Oh that nonsense about a weak goalie coach? Nonsense. He got Talbot back on his game in short order and had Nilsson in top form when he was blowing the dust off his pads.

  • Oilers-Entourage

    I’m happy about the goaltending situation at the moment. Nilsson has been a tremendous surprise this season, and Talbot is looking more like the player that I thought he was,when we acquired him this past summer. It’s nice to have two players dueling for that starter role. I’m also still pulling for Scrivens to rediscover his game and confidence. I still think he has a role to play somewhere in the NHL. Brossoit is waiting in the wings, playing great, waiting for an opportunity as well. We have some organizational depth in goal, finally, and that can only help us.

    Everything begins in goal.

  • Oilers-Entourage

    Talbot deserves to and surely will start in Vancouver on the 26th with Nilsson likely to start against the Flames the following night. Unless Nilsson totally out-performs Talbot I expect Talbot to start against the Kings on the 29th. Presumably TM will ride whichever goalie is hot and hope one emerges as a legitimate Number One. My money is also on Talbot, but Nilsson could be an outstanding backup. Save percentage may be the most tainted of all stats because the number and quality of shots goaltenders face are not factored in, so it is most effective for comparing goalies on the same team.

  • Jordanzza

    Brossoit is trending in the right direction in Bakersfield. I view this whole season as a battle between Talbot and Nilsson to see who emerges above the 1A/B hot hand rotation. If we can get them both into ~40 games, then the man with the better save/win percentage this summer gets a little more money. Even if both end up in the > .920 save percentage, both can get 2-4 year deals in the 2>4 million range, with the “starter” on the high end and the “backup” on the low. That should give Laurent another year or two getting better at the AHL level until he forces his way into the NHL. At that point either Talbot or Nilsson are still valuable enough to trade.

  • Poke Check

    I’d go for a 60-40 split between Talbot and Nilsson going forward. I could be wrong, but my feel is that both of these guys are getting into trouble once McLellan starts giving them too many consecutive starts. Nilsson’s recent relapse may have simply been fatigue.

  • Jordanzza

    I agree with several of the commenters above. No immediate coronation is necessary here. Let them both work things out with the goalie coach. A little practice time wouldn’t hurt.

    Both Talbot and Nilsson have been standouts but crumbled under the pressure of 40-50 shots per game, game after game. The number of shots they face is a function of a sh*tty defence who can’t get the puck out of the zone often times and forwards like Pouliot, Yak, RNH and Eberle who think back-checking is optional. If they don’t change, their work address just might.

  • Jordanzza

    Man crush there Willis…?

    Why does people seem to want it to be Talbot? Why do you care who STOPS PUCKS ?
    Seems very juvenile to me. I root for the name/logo on the front. I don’t give a crap about the name on the back.

    Grow up. Root for the frigging team if you’re a “team” fan.

  • Jordanzza

    The Oil are fortunate to have two goalies who are capable of standing on their heads. You can’t criticize the goalies unless/until the Oil address the weak D who can’t stop the cycle or get the puck out of their zone. McLellan needs to get the lazy forwards who refuse to play a 200 ft. game on side and then a clearcut decision can’t be made as to who earns the #1 starter tag.

    You can’t judge the goaltending when they are facing 40-50 shots a game. The Oil have to be a league worst for giving up shots and turning over the puck. The goalies are playing a large part in every win this season. I don’t see how commentators can be suggesting they are the problem.

    I’ll wager Talbot didn’t get bombed with a ton of shots when he replaced Lundquist last season. He had a credible defence in front of him and was a stand-out.

    Dubnyk went from being a failure in Edmonton to a Vezina candidate. How is that? Because he had no support from his Oiler team-mates and is now playing on a Wild team that has true NHL defence.