Two of the hottest goaltenders and best nicknames in the NHL meet Thursday when the Ottawa Senators host the New York Rangers in a battle between the "Goalbuster" and the "Hamburglar."
Rangers goaltender Cam Talbot was dubbed Goalbuster thanks to his "Ghostbusters" movie-themed masks. Senators goalie Andrew Hammond earned the Hamburglar nickname in college and it stuck in the NHL thanks to the image of the masked McDonald's character painted (with Alfred E. Newman's face) on the side of his mask.
The bigger question beyond this meeting of hot nicknames and hotter play is, how much staying power do Hammond and Talbot have in the NHL, and which one is best suited to becoming a No. 1 goalie?
Andrew "The Hamburglar" Hammond has the image of the masked McDonald's character painted (with Alfred E. Newman's face) on the side of his mask. (Photo: Andre Ringuette/NHLI)
Each has looked the part heading into Madison Square Garden (7:30 p.m. ET: RDS, TSN5, MSG Plus).
Talbot is 15-3-3 with a 2.12 goals-against average and .930 save percentage in 21 games since Henrik Lundqvist was hit in the throat by a puck and sustained a vascular injury.
Hammond has started his NHL career 14-0-1 with a 1.67 goals-against average and .946 save percentage. He was called up from Binghamton of the American Hockey League on Jan. 29 because of a hand injury to Craig Anderson and was thrown into action Feb. 16 after backup Robin Lehner sustained a concussion.
Hammond has been a huge part of the Senators' run to the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Eastern Conference, and Talbot has played a big role in the Rangers taking over the lead in the Metropolitan Division.
Neither may be with his team for long, however, which leaves many to wonder which 27-year-old is best suited for success elsewhere.
Is it Hammond, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer, or will Ottawa move either Anderson or Lehner to make room for the Hamburglar's rock-star status?
Is it Talbot, who was also set for unrestricted free agency this summer before signing a one-year extension just before Christmas that delayed it until 2016?
Or is it possible each undrafted goalie is simply enjoying an extended hot streak behind a team playing very well right now, especially defensively?
In Hammond's case, there is almost certainly an element of the latter. If not, he may go down as the greatest goalie in the history of hockey because he is stopping pucks at previously unseen, and therefore likely unsustainable, levels. So it's not a matter of whether Hammond will eventually regress, but by how much.
Finding the answer is difficult not only because of the unpredictable nature of goaltending, but also because there isn't a large enough sample size on either goaltender for the data to be definitive.
So even if you believe high-danger save percentage, as defined by a shot's proximity to the net, is a better indicator of talent than overall save percentage, Hammond's NHL-leading 91.95 save percentage on those chances (according to WarOnIce.com) is based on too few shots after 16 games to be considered reliable. (Talbot ranks 11th at 86.70 percent, which is two spots and 0.21 ahead of Vezina Trophy favorite Carey Price of the Montreal Canadiens.)
Taking a look at past performance in other leagues is also little help. Each played college hockey: Talbot for three seasons at the University Of Alabama in Huntsville, and Hammond for four seasons at Bowling Green University. They combined for one win in their freshman seasons (by Talbot), but Talbot will be the first to tell you he is a completely different style of goaltender since leaving school, adopting a more conservative approach after signing with the Rangers as a free agent.
As for their time in the American Hockey League, it's easy to see Talbot's save percentage improved steadily over four seasons but little else is evident. Hammond has played 73 games over two seasons with Binghamton and actually went the other way with a .898 save percentage this season after a .910 his first.
Beyond not knowing how well either goaltender's team defended in the AHL, Hammond's offseason goalie coaches have suggested his ability to read and anticipate plays so well may be better suited to the more structured, predictable style of play in the NHL.
That leaves us with the good old-fashioned eyeball test. So let's take a closer look at their individual style to see if there is anything about the way these two stop the puck, or where on the ice they do it, that might provide clues for comparative future success.
Start with similarities. Hammond and Talbot each displays a nice blend of technical proficiency with his lower body, moving into and off of their posts using a mix of modern techniques. Talbot moves more smoothly, but neither defaults prematurely to a blocking butterfly, with arms locked tight at the sides. Each has shown good hands and even better hand-eye coordination with late reactive saves in redirection situations when a lot of goalies might already be stuck in drop-and-block mode.
Hammond's ability to find the puck and make reactive, athletic saves in desperate scrambles has been remarkable, but it also leads us to the biggest difference between him and Talbot: Where they play relative to the crease and how much they move as a result.
Talbot plays almost exclusively within the blue ice, or more accurately within an imaginary rectangle in that crease created by New York goalie coach Benoit Allaire. Talbot is not as deep as Lundqvist, but Talbot rarely wanders far, and the result is shorter, controlled, inside-out movements that prioritize angle and should always keep him in position to at least have a chance to make a save.
Hammond is noticeably more aggressive, and not just against rush chances.
Even during end-zone play it is not uncommon for Hammond to have white ice between the heel of his skates and the top of the crease, whereas Talbot almost always keeps blue ice in front of his toes. As a result, Hammond gives himself less time to react to shots and change of direction plays, and more space to recover if either results in a rebound or loose puck.
New York Rangers goaltender Cam Talbot was dubbed "Goalbuster" thanks to his "Ghostbusters" movie-themed masks -- his current mask features a design of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man from the 1984 film. (Photo: Andre Ringuette/NHLI)
Talbot can make slight hip rotations and little pushes on his knees for second chances; Hammond has to make bigger turns and bigger pushes to get back to his posts. As a result, he ends up diving headfirst often enough they might want to change his nickname to "Scramburglar."
Hammond has more movement in his game, and since every move a goalie makes opens a hole, he leaves himself more reliant on timing and rhythm, especially when he is trying to match incoming rushes with his own backward flow. Hammond also uses more shuffles than T-pushes to move east and west, which has the advantage of not opening up the lead skate as he moves and allows him to change direction quickly, but again adds more movement and moving parts to his game.
Physiologically, Talbot also has an edge. It's not just that at 6-foot-3 he stands 2 inches taller than Hammond (and some argued Price instead of Jaroslav Halak with the Canadiens in 2010 if for no other reason than at 6-foot-3 Price was 4 inches taller), but Talbot also has a wider butterfly flare than Hammond. That allows Talbot to cover a little more net from his knees and makes it slightly easier for him to move side-to-side laterally on his knees because it's easier to get a push edge with his skate.
All of this may mean nothing in the long term. The reality is, all the tendencies that point to Talbot over Hammond were evident to the Senators too; otherwise it wouldn't have taken nine games and Lehner's injury to get Hammond into his first NHL game. None of those style points prevented him from tying Hall of Fame goalie Frank Brimsek's 77-year-old record by allowing two goals or fewer in his first 12 starts.
When you consider the skills that go with that style, including quick feet and great edge work, have allowed Hammond to enjoy unprecedented early success, maybe it won't be enough to keep him from NHL stardom either.
After all, Tim Thomas went from a .892 save percentage in the International Hockey League in his mid-20s to a two-time Vezina Trophy winner while playing a style that didn’t always look as pretty as other No.1 goaltenders.
It's too early to tell, but if you had to pick based on a few style tendencies, Talbot might be a safer bet in the long term.