EDMONTON, AB - Cam Talbot has become a workhorse for the Oilers.
Starting 10 of 11 games will give you that designation, but Talbot has done more than just skate out with the starters. He has posted numbers which back up his ascension through the NHL goalie ranks.
“I feel more comfortable and confident than I ever have,” said Talbot. “I think I’m really coming into my own, playing-wise. I think over the last little while I’ve proven I can handle a number-one workload and be a number-one goalie in this league.”
That was Talbot’s goal when he arrived in Edmonton via trade at the 2015 NHL Draft. After playing in the shadow of Henrik Lundqvist, Talbot was ready to compete for a number-one job.
Talbot, fresh off a 39 of 40-save performance against Winnipeg, preceded by a 35-save shutout in Philadelphia, was named the NHL’s First Star of the Week. His .967 save percentage in his last six starts is spectacular. Talbot says this is the best he’s felt in his entire career, even better than when he went 16-4-3 during a long stretch with Lundqvist hurt last season.
But Talbot’s first season with Edmonton didn’t start the way it’s been in recent weeks. It’s almost fitting that Halloween was a dark day for Talbot, one that put a dent in his confidence and delayed his rise.
“There’s not a lot of baseball players who go through the whole season without an error. It gets magnified when you’re a goaltender and it happens in that situation,” said Oilers Head Coach Todd McLellan.
The Oilers had scored two-straight goals to start the third period and tie their game against the Calgary Flames. Momentum was on their side as overtime loomed, except it would never go past regulation. Talbot allowed a late, bad-angle goal to Michael Frolik that carried the provincial rivals to a 5-4 victory.
Talbot’s numbers at the time were not near the level they’re at now, and he sat behind Anders Nilsson for a time while working with Oilers Goalie Coach Dustin Schwartz to get his game back after that.
“I think that just goes back to a confidence thing,” said Talbot. “I was maybe doing a little bit too much or trying to do too much when things weren’t going well for myself and putting myself in bad positions. That’s when some of those squeakers start to roll in. It happened for a few games there, but I was able to work with Schwartzy for a couple weeks there and really try to tighten things up. I think I’ve been pretty comfortable and solid ever since then.”
“He’s allowed to make mistakes sometimes,” said McLellan. “We don’t expect him to be perfect. He was still a new player in a new organization and we were all trying to figure out how to play at that point, which we still are doing. The recovery was fine. He put his nose to the grindstone. I think Dustin Schwartz did a tremendous job with him, working on the mental aspect and adjusting a few things in his game, coming to a new organization.”
During his early rough patch, Talbot says his status with the Oilers did cross his mind. However, he put it on the back-burner and got to work. Now, those 39-save performances like the one in Winnipeg on Sunday are becoming a familiar happening.
“It’s almost becoming routine for him, and I don’t mean the effort is easy by any means,” McLellan said. “The results of him being a wall back there and giving us an opportunity to scratch and claw for wins has been pretty impressive… We feel we’ve got a really good one there.”
Talbot has produced four straight wins for the Oilers in his latest starts.
“I believe our results really are a reflection of the impact he has on our games right now,” said McLellan. “We’re a team that’s trying to come together after numerous changes at the Trade Deadline, fighting through some injuries, especially on the backend, and that’s always tough. You need someone solid back there, somebody that exudes confidence and can get the job done. Certainly, Cam has been that for us for a long time now. We couldn’t be happier for him and happier for us, because it’s a real important position and he’s playing it very well right now.”
In January the Oilers signed Talbot to a three-year extension, locking up the netminder for the foreseeable future. Talbot is repaying the club with a glimpse of what he can do.
“This might be the best I’ve felt in my career so far,” he said.
“It’s just when you get that confidence going and you start to feel good, being able to play a little more consistently, you kind of get into a little groove and get to carry that forward when you’re kind of on that roll.”