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Red-hot Talbot gets the start tonight against Wild

by RYAN DITTRICK @ryandittrick /

These days, the pads are well worn.

Blackened and bruised by the boundless abuse of heavyweight slapshots, glancing blows and everything in between, the pearly and pure, white Bauer Supremes in Cam Talbot's arsenal are immaculate no more.

It's a goalie thing.

The evidence of a strong night plastered in full, for all to see. 

It seems, now, the pucks are hitting him more than ever.

"I feel great right now," Talbot said. "The confidence is there, I'm attacking pucks when I need to, I'm holding my ground when I need to. The biggest thing for me is controlling rebounds - I think I've done a pretty good job with that, not giving (Chicago) too many second chances the other night.

"That's when I know I'm on my game."

Hockey world, take note: Talbot is on fire.

With 31 stops the other night in a 2-1 victory over the Blackhawks, the veteran improved to 5-7-0 on the year, with a .917 save percentage and a 2.62 goals-against average. 

But in the last month, especially, his numbers have not only given the Flames reason to provide a second straight start tonight against the Minnesota Wild, he's literally been one of the best, league-wide, in that span, too.

His .938 overall save percentage is second only to Tristan Jarry of the Pittsburgh Penguins, and his ridiculous, .954 even-strength stat line is tops among goalies with at least six starts. 

"His whole game just looks clean right now," said goaltending coach Jordan Sigalet. "He's worked a lot on adjusting his depth in the net, and when his depth is where it should be, his movements are short and crisp, it makes things easy.

"Rebound control, especially.

"You know, confidence is a funny thing. Last year wasn't what he wanted in Edmonton. And then he gets traded to Philly and doesn't play much, so that takes a hit on your confidence. 

"But he comes in here and revamps his game a little bit. He's been working unbelievably hard, putting the time in and not complaining at all. Just waiting for his opportunity. The more you play, the more confident you get, and the more success you'll have.

"You can see that confidence glowing off him right now."


Video: "Goaltending is a lot about confidence"


Indeed, Talbot has made a strong case to get the net more often in the second half of the season, but he's also comfortable with the partnership he's formed with the Flames' No. 1, David Rittich. 

The '1A/1B' goaltending strategy has become more prevalent around the NHL in recent years, and as long as the team is winning and both guys are playing well, you can't dispute its effectiveness. 

"Everybody wants to play," Talbot said. "It's not a secret that I wanted more starts in the first half of the year, but it was tough to take David out at the start of the year, too. He was lights-out; he's been our best player all year long. 

"A perfect example is Boston last year. They had two goalies humming all year, and Tuukka (Rask is) fresh and ready to go come playoff time, and they go deep and make a run at the Stanley Cup. It's a tough league, especially in the Western Conference with so much travel and stuff like that, so if you can have two guys going and guys have confidence in both of them, that's good for everybody.

"I went through this for a couple years playing behind (Henrik) Lundqvist. Sometimes you're going to go two, three weeks without a start, but your professionalism at the rink, in practice, game days, all that kind of stuff, doesn't go unnoticed by the guys, I don't think. So, I always try to bring a positive attitude every day, put my work boots on and be ready for that next start. In between, I've got to continue to work hard and make sure I'm ready for that start."

With that, it seems likely that both puck-stoppers will be leaned on heavily down the stretch. 

Rittich, who's easily on track to surpass the 45 games he appeared in last year (he's played 33 already - a 60-game pace), interim head coach Geoff Ward might feel inclined to dial back the workload and keep both guys fresh and playing at their best. 

"We take it a week at a time and we talk about what's coming ahead," Ward said of the staff's goaltending schedule. "Both goalies get lots of notice in terms of what our thoughts are. We like to get their thoughts on what they're feeling and thinking, and we go with our final decision. 

"We feel it's really necessary to use both goalies down the stretch. Then, come playoff time go with the hot hand. 

"For us, we feel like the depth is a thing that we can really take advantage of, and the depth at our goaltending position makes us a better team."



But tonight, the crease belongs to No. 39. 

And after winning only one of his first six starts of the season and going 4-2 since, the 'tender is rightfully brimming with confidence. 

"I'm getting some different opportunities now - not always playing on the second half of back-to-backs and that sort of thing," Talbot said. "That goes hand in hand with where my numbers are. The guys are rested in front of me and as a goalie, you simplify your game a little more. 

"The guys have been great in front of me lately and I'm doing my best for them.

"I'm excited to get another start tonight and try to give this team another chance to win."

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