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Photo Credit: Walter Tychnowicz-USA TODAY Sports

Year in Review: The Oilers have leaned heavily on Cam Talbot and he finally cracked

This is one part of a player-by-player Year in Review series we’ll be doing over the next couple months as we look back on the 2017-18 Edmonton Oilers season. 

2017-18 Edmonton Oilers No.33: Cam Talbot

GP: 67 GP, 31-31-3 GAA: 3.02, SV%: .908

The reality of hockey is that goaltending can make all the difference. A really good goaltender can make a bad team look a lot better than it actually is, while a really bad goaltender can completely sewer an otherwise good team.

Over the past two seasons, we’ve seen both ends of the spectrum with Cam Talbot. In 2016-17, he played a key role in Edmonton’s success with a Vezina-calibre season. Then, in 2017-18, he played a role in Edmonton’s collapse with a below-average showing. Talbot posted a .908 save percentage in 2017-18, significantly below the .919 save percentage he put up in 2016-17 when he finished fourth in Vezina Trophy and 17th in Hart Trophy voting.

I certainly wouldn’t blame Edmonton’s poor season on Talbot. There were a lot of things wrong with the team last seasons, like a less-than-stellar blueline, terrible special teams, and an inability to generate offence without Connor McDavid on the ice. The situation presented to Talbot was one with little room for error. He had to be ridiculously good to help compensate for the team. And, well, to be blunt, he wasn’t. But was he bad? I’m not so sure.

What should we make of Talbot’s year? I think taking a deeper dive into his performance in 2017-18 tells more about the Oilers as a whole than it does about him.

In 2017-18, the Oilers were one of the league’s worst teams, according to Natural Stat Trick, at allowing high danger chances against at even strength. They allowed the fourth-most high danger chances at 816 and only the Capitals, Islanders, and Rangers allowed more than they did. What about last year? Interestingly enough, the Oilers allowed the fifth-most high danger chances against in 2016-17 at 737. Only the Canucks, Islanders, Rangers, and Coyotes allowed more.

So, was it really Talbot’s fault for Edmonton’s inability to keep the puck out of the net last year? In both 2016-17 and 2017-18, the Oilers allowed a lot of high danger chances against at even strength. Interestingly enough, Talbot posted similar save percentages when facing high danger shots in each of the past two seasons. In 2016-17, he stopped 88.46% of high danger chances, then, in 2017-18, he stopped 87.75% of them. That ranks 12th in the league in both seasons. Beyond that, Talbot’s save percentage at even strength save percentage last season was 91.69%, which isn’t even that much worse than his 92.9% save percentage the previous year.

Where things really start to come unglued is Edmonton’s penalty kill. The penalty kill was historically-bad until about mid-February when Paul Coffey rolled in to help work on the special teams. It helped a bit and Edmonton ended up with the 25th best penalty kill in the league, operating at a paltry 76.73%. Talbot had a .848 save percentage on the PK, much worse than the .874 SV% he had on the PK last season. Can you fault Talbot for poor results on the PK?

Nov 26, 2017; Boston, MA, USA; Edmonton Oilers goalie Cam Talbot (33) during the first period against the Boston Bruins at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

What does all this mean for the Oilers? I think it goes to show just how heavily the Oilers have leaned on Talbot the past couple years. In 2016-17, he made the team look a little better than it actually was, then, in 2017-18, he wasn’t able to do it again and the wheels fell off. After a playing in a franchise-record 73 games plus 13 playoff games, it was reasonable to expect Talbot to crack a little bit. I don’t think that’s an indication that he isn’t a very good NHL goalie, though.

 

A narrative that surfaced around Talbot after his poor showing last year was that he is, in fact, just a random overachiever falling back down to earth. This is obviously the lazy conclusion to come to because Talbot is a late-bloomer, undrafted goalie who came out of nowhere and we’ve seen similar guys like Andrew Hammond fizzle out quickly in the past.

But Talbot has a much, much more extensive track record than many give him credit for. Beyond his 2016-17 season, Talbot has been a very good goalie at the NHL level. In his first 113 NHL games over three seasons with New York and Edmonton, Talbot posted a .924 save percentage, even better than the .919 save percentage he posted in his career-year with the Oilers in 2016-17. If you take away last season, Talbot has a .922 save percentage over 186 games.

Goalies are obviously enigmatic and difficult to predict, but it’s reasonable to assume that Talbot is the goalie from the larger vastly positive 186-game sample size rather than the goalie from the most recent 67-game sample size.

  • AlexTheOilersFanSince2006

    I like Cam, and always have. Being in Toronto, I saw him play against the Leafs a few times and I liked what I saw from him. His start as a full No. 1 didn’t begin well, but that was to be expected. He actually led the league in sv% in the back half of the 2015-16 season. 2016-17 he was unreal. Almost 1st in every goaltending category. 1st in games played, starts, minutes played, shots faced, saves made. Tied for 1st in wins. 2nd in shutouts. Last year he stunk, but like with everyone else, that shouldn’t set the norm for him. I’m excited to see #33 back between the pipes and I know he’ll knock it out of the part.

  • Foximus

    The D will be better this year. Last year was a tire fire. Talbot is a legit starter and will win some games himself this season. Having Larsson healthy and re-focused will play a big factor as well. I’ll be trying to get him in my hockey pool for sure!

      • crabman

        @TKO,

        I would assume a healthy Klefbom after his shoulder surgery, a healthy Sekera with more than a year of recovery from his knee injury and a full offseason to train, Larsson not dealing with the death of his father this year and hopefully not having back issues like last year, Nurse and Benning having another year experience, and finally new assistant coaches, one known for his great work with young defenceman are all the reasons I have confidence the defence will be better this year.

  • Bills Bills

    Save the first shot of the game and get off your knees. Tweaks that a goalie coach should have recognized and adjusted for as the season went on.

    I expect better next season but the question for me is, has Talbot or the coaching staff acknowledged what the problem is in order to correct it?

  • OriginalPouzar

    “I certainly wouldn’t blame Edmonton’s poor season on Talbot.”

    I do take a bit of issue with this blanket statement. While, of course, Talbot can’t be blamed for the season entirely, I believe a material portion of the blame can be apportioned to him.

    Talbot simply wasn’t good enough. You did nail it Dustin that the majority of the issues number wise (i.e. save percentage) were on the PK and the entire unit was a tire fire for a good portion of the year, however, aside from that, we all saw that, not only was Talbot letting in weak goals more consistently than in the past, just as importantly, he wasn’t making the big saves.

    Yes, I know, the numbers show that his save percentage on high danger chances was fine, however, from memory, he wasn’t making the big save at the key times and, on the other side, the weak goals were happening at bad times.
    Timing is important.

    Anyways, I am fully confident that Talbot will be much better this year. History shows that last season was the outlier for him and, of course, as others have said, the defensive group and the team defence, should be much improved this season if our top 4 stays somewhat healthy.

    I am hopeful and confident that Talbot (and the team) will not peak in game 1.

    • Spydyr

      One has to wonder how fourteen games might have been impacted by Talbot letting in the first shot of the game. Weak goals let in almost every game. If you think Talbot’s play did not influence last season you have your head buried in the sand.

      • OriginalPouzar

        I’m not sure why that is in response to me – I was disagreeing with the writers’s statement of lessening Talbot’s accountability and positing that Talbot’s play was a material issue.

        With respect to the early/first shot goals, again, I won’t let Talbot off the hook there, many were weak goals (and that is just awful timing to let in a weak goal) but the blame is not fully on Talbot, there were many lapses by the skaters leading to prime chances. Yes, Talbot needs to make a save but the team needs to start games better as well.

  • JimmyV1965

    Just rewatched the 3-2 loss to the Flames at the end of March. Talbot was pulled in the first period after allowing three goals on seven shots. Two of them were shots no more than 15 feet inside the blueline and the third was caused by a juicy rebound he gave up. Oil dominated the play but lost the game. This is the stuff that kills teams.

    • Spydyr

      If you have ever played on a team with weak goaltending you understand how demoralizing it is to the bench when the goalie allows a weak goal after you battled hard to get back into a game.

  • Total Points

    Talbot always starts the season slow. He needs a capable back up to get through the rough spots.

    Every year Iginla started slow but by the end of the year he had similar numbers as the previous years

    • Spydyr

      You cannot make the playoffs in October but you can miss them in October. It is imperative Talbot and the entire team gets off to a fast start this season. The October schedule is a freaking murder’s row. Let’s hope they come out flying.

    • crabman

      3 seasons as Oilers starter and his last season in NY he took over as starter when Lundquist was injured and he started 36 games. Although Talbot is a late bloomer he has been a good goalie and a starter the majority of his professional career. There is no reason to believe he can’t get back to atleast league average. That with an improved special teams and the Oilers should be pushing for the playoffs again next year.

  • Kneedroptalbot

    If someone happens to pluck him off waivers, then we free up 4.2M in Cap space. That would help us with our salary Cap mis-management. Then we would be able sign Darnell Nurse to a long term contract.

  • ScottV

    Even when winning two years ago, I felt it was by the seat of their pants, two hot young forwards and Talbot having to stand on his head, way more than was sustainable.

    While the overall problem comes from the top down, I really have never liked McL – his misguided priorities and style of play that he has the guys playing. The style is a slight variation to the one and done rushing of the past 10+ years. Mass shooting at first opportunity is really just more turnovers that more often than not – go the other way. You just get a few more corsi ticks but a turnover and we’re going the wrong way is a turnover we’re going the wrong way.

    Just one of many issues that lead to too much instability in the way we play.

  • JayTee

    ” In 2016-17, he made the team look a little better than it actually was…”

    What!? That team was good because the whole team was playing cohesively, as one unit. They stuck up for each other. The team was healthy, which helped. But to say the team was only as good as it was because of Talbot is short sighted.

    The only team I can remember that was only as good as it was, was the 2014-15 Canadiens when Price won the Hart, Vezina, and Lindsay trophies.

  • Foxconn

    The Oilers acquisition of Mikko Koskinen was a brilliant move. He’ll push Talbot to be better or will take over the starting job. It’ll be interesting to see.