We all know Cam Talbot is the Oilers starter. There is no controversy or questioning who is the starter.
I’m talking only about Saturday’s game versus Colorado.
Will Todd McLellan start Talbot or Brossoit?
The entire team struggled in the first 40 minutes in Colorado last night. It wasn’t just Talbot. The team was flat. Maybe their legs were heavy or their minds were tired, but regardless of what ailed them, they stunk for the first 40 minutes.
Laurent Brossoit entered for the third and he only faced six shots. He made two big saves, and for the first ten minutes saw only two shots. The skaters woke up and dominated the third frame scoring five goals and with the win the team reached 89 points for the first time since 2006.
Brossoit can’t do more than stopping all 22 shots he faced in Anaheim and Colorado. He hadn’t played in a month, came in cold off the bench and stopped every shot. He has now stopped 103 of 111 shots for a .928sv% this season. It is a small sample size, but his recent play should earn him a start at some point down the stretch.
Talbot has been side-by-side with Connor McDavid as the most important player on the Oilers this year. I don’t see any sign of physical fatigue. He’s had two shutouts in his last four games, and he’s been pulled twice, although the second one was a mercy pull, not for allowing blatantly bad goals.
Yesterday, I wrote I would have started Brossoit last night. I’d have given Talbot a day off, more for the mental rest than physical. I’ve spoke to Talbot all season and I don’t think he’s worn down. He’s been adamant about it all year and I believe him. Many goalies have started 70 games in a season and had solid performances in the playoffs. Martin Brodeur, Jonathan Quick, Grant Fuhr, Braden Hotlby, Dominik Hasek and many others have done it. And most did it for multiple seasons.
McLellan has a few scenarios to consider.
Does he want to start Talbot just so he can feel good about his game right away, rather than wait another three days before they host the Kings on Tuesday?
Would it benefit Talbot to have the game off and then have a solid practice with goalie coach Dustin Schwartz on Sunday or Monday?
Does Talbot need a mental break?
It might sound harsh, but McLellan’s focus will be how does his decision impact Talbot. Brossoit is the backup, and at this point McLellan’s decision will be all about what is best for Talbot. Brossoit played well, and he earned more respect from his coach and teammates, but 22 saves doesn’t mean the coach suddenly changes his approach to his starter.
McLellan has spoke often about how as a head coach you analyze every decision. And often over-analyze. There is no guarantee it will work.
Most of us would agree the odds of the Oilers defeating Colorado are higher than beating LA or San Jose. The Oilers are still in a battle for home ice advantage in the Pacific division. Every game matters and McLellan won’t make a knee-jerk decision, and I’m sure there are other factors that go into his decision than the few we’ve outlined.
At some point it makes sense to give Talbot at least one game off, and likely two of the final eight. Which two will it be? One of the back-to-backs in the final week of the season against Vancouver seems likely, and maybe that is the only game he’ll get off.
I’d start Brossoit tomorrow. I’d give Talbot a mental break, let him have a strong technical practice with Schwartz and then play him against LA, San Jose and Anaheim next week. I’d play the odds and play Brossoit against the Avalanche. They aren’t as formidable as Los Angeles, and Brossoit has looked good the past two nights.
I don’t believe Talbot will let the past two performances impact his future starts. The biggest improvement in his game has been his ability to move on after a bad goal. Early last season it was an issue, and it’s why he struggled in November, but when he returned in December of 2015 he proved he won’t let an off night or a bad goal bother him long-term. I wouldn’t be worried that a four-day break between games would be a mental burden.
Who would you start tomorrow? And why?
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