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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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