PHILADELPHIA – When it comes to hockey, there aren’t very many players who are loved both in the city of Philadelphia and the city of Pittsburgh.
There is certainly one current exception – Max Talbot.
Think about that for a second. For all the vitriol that Philadelphians display toward Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and James Neal and equally for all the salvos fired back from Pittsburghers toward Scott Hartnell, Wayne Simmonds and Zac Rinaldo, there is actual peace and harmony in both cities when it comes to Talbot.
That speaks volumes about him as both a player and a person away from the game.
On the ice, he gives you everything you could ask for – grit, hustle, energy, sacrifice, determination – he’s a player that has a motor that doesn’t shut off.
And when he’s really firing on all cylinders, he’s even more effective than one would expect a hybrid third-fourth line player to be.
He had a breakout season with the Flyers in 2011-12, setting career highs in goals (19), assists (15) and points (34), but what came with that was lofty expectations by the public for a repeat – if not better statistical performance this year.
However, prior to last season, Talbot averaged 18 points per season (nine goals, nine assists) in six seasons with the Penguins, which is more akin to what his role is as a grinder, defensive forward and penalty kill specialist.
So, when he started the season without a goal in the Flyers first 21 games, the outcry was that Talbot was not playing to the level the coaches wanted him to play.. The rumors started churning that he could be the first player traded if the team needed change. The speculation was that he wasn’t playing the way the team needed him to play.
But the coaching staff never felt that way – especially Peter Laviolette.
“Since Max has been here we’ve used him in so many different roles,” Laviolette said. “He’s been used on every line, as a spark or in a checking role. Functionally he’s done just about everything we’ve asked willingly.
“But what is most visible to me is the way he plays and the way he accounts for all of his strides. He’s an energy guy that provides value for the team as someone who can do that on a consistent basis.”
And his impact was felt considerably in Friday’s crucial 2-1 win over the Devils.
Playing on a new third line as a center with Simon Gagne and Matt Read, Talbot was incredibly effective.
He scored the Flyers lone goal in regulation. He had three hits, two blocked shots, was a whirling dervish on the penalty kill and gave the Flyers something they have sorely lacked this season – a consistent second faceoff option to Claude Giroux. Talbot won 57 percent of the 14 draws he took.
“I have no problem putting him out there for a faceoff,” Laviolette said. He had a good night [Friday] when we utilized him in that role. But if he needed to go up and play second line left wing, he could do that Or if I need him to play with Sean [Couturier] and Zac on the right wing against top lines, he can do that too.”
And his play didn’t go unnoticed by his teammates.
“When you see him blocking shots, going down and blocking shots that’s definitely contagious for all the guys on the bench,” Gagne said. “It makes you want to pay the price a little bit more. We know if one guy does it, everybody has to do it too. He got a nice goal too. It’s fun to see a guy play a role and be credited with a goal.”
And it’s not just his on ice work-ethic that is noticeable to his teammates, but his off-ice work as well.
“He’s a guy that won in Pittsburgh and knows what it takes,” Gagne said. “He’s a guy on the ice that will bring a lot of energy by skating, hitting guys and being the first on the puck and blocking shots on the penalty kill.
“That is the type of guy, a role guy that you need to have on your team to be successful. When he is at his best like [Friday], it helps your team to play a lot better.”
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