Ken Hitchcock has been saying all the right things when it comes to managing goaltenders Cam Talbot and Mikko Koskinen since he took over as coach. Sweet-talker and savvy bench boss he is, Hitch has made sure to stress he likes both of his stoppers while pointing out he considers goaltending a strength of his Edmonton Oilers. Of course he does.
I’m not buying it. The fact is, Koskinen has been so much better than Talbot to this point of the season, it’s not even close. The big Finn is 8-3-1 with a 2.23 goals-against average and a .925 save percentage. Talbot, who’ll get the net back against the St, Louis Blues tonight, is 5-9-1 with a 3.29 and .889 and is in one of the swoons we’ve seen too often during his time with the Oilers.
Don’t me wrong, Koskinen has been a terrific story, one I didn’t expect. But what Hitchcock has here is a 30-year-old stopper with just 17 NHL games on his resume who has grabbed the No. 1 spot and a veteran in Talbot, who has proven capable of great stretches at times, but cannot seem to go wire-to-wire in a season. To me, that’s far from ideal, far from a strength in the big picture.
If Talbot intends to change that, to turn the battle for the blue paint into an actual tug-of-war instead of a one-sided pull for Koskinen, he has to find his game. I can’t think of a better time than tonight in the Show Me State to get on with it. Until that happens, Hitch will have to keep blowing smoke at Talbot without being rewarded for it. Enough talk about and from Talbot. Stop pucks.
WHAT THEY SAY
“We’ve got to get a better rhythm,” said Hitchcock, who has put Koskinen between the pipes for four straight starts. “It’s too spaced out for me. The gap between playing is too big. I think we’re in a position now, when we get back to Edmonton, where we can have a better routine. In my opinion, when you have faith in both guys like I do, both guys have got to play.”
There’s nothing in it for Hitchcock to jump all over Talbot, whose last start was a 5-2 loss to the Los Angeles Kings, so I get why he’s been publicly supportive. That said, I’d love to be a fly on the wall when Hitchcock and his staff talk about what they’ve seen from Talbot, who’ll be an unrestricted free agent this summer. It stands to reason a call is coming on Talbot. The rest of the season has to be about winning games, not playing footsie in the crease.
“When a guy is playing as well as him (Koskinen) and winning games, that’s what you expect,” said Talbot, who hasn’t won in six starts dating back to a 2-1 decision over the Chicago Blackhawks Oct. 28. “I have to get back to playing my game . . . I’ve always been a professional who supports his partner and his teammates.”
My guess is Hitchcock would rather have Talbot supporting his teammates while stopping pucks instead of cheerleading from the end of the bench with a ball cap on. You can do both, after all. While nobody has come out and said it — certainly not Hitchcock — the clock is ticking on Talbot and how many more games he has to grab the starting job back from Koskinen. There are games to win, and that dictates the best guy gets the net.
WHILE I’M AT IT
- It looks like Jujhar Khaira will get a bump up the line-up tonight against the Blues as he’s pencilled in on left wing on the second line with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jesse Puljujarvi. With just 1-6-7 this season, Khaira hasn’t been nearly as good or productive as I thought he might be after what he showed at times last season.
- Khaira, Milan Lucic, Ty Rattie, Puljujarvi and Zack Kassian have combined for just seven goals this season. Lucic, of course, is the name that sticks out here. While I don’t take the same delight it seems some do in seeing him struggle, I’m at a total loss to understand what’s happened to him. Two goals in 70-plus games dating back to last season? Mercy.
- I love the idea of Seattle getting an expansion franchise and joining the Pacific Division. It’s a great town with a storied hockey past. Curious to know what you think as far as a team name goes and your impression of the old Seattle Totems jerseys I ran on Twitter yesterday.