EDMONTON, AB - Cam Talbot is a competitive guy.
There probably isn’t one player in the National Hockey League content to ride the pine for any extended period. However, Talbot had to patiently do just that as the Oilers rolled with who was hot for a stretch. That was Anders Nilsson.
Edmonton started Nilsson 15 of 18 games from November 3 to December 14. The team went 9-5-1 in those 15 games. Nilsson had a .920 save percentage in that time. In five straight starts from December 2-11, Nilsson posted a .927 save percentage. More importantly, five wins.
There’s not much a goalie can do when his counterpart is putting up numbers like Nilsson did during that stretch, except wait for the next opportunity.
|Photo by Andy Devlin |
“Just try and stay sharp,” said Talbot. “Stay ready. Anything can happen at any time. A few extra bike rides here and there, extra work with Schwartzy after practices and stuff like that. Little tweaks here and there. The technical side of the game doesn’t change too much. You just try to stay mentally focused.”
Talbot worked a little extra after practices with Oilers Goalie Coach Dustin Schwartz, but it was still mostly just a waiting game. The waiting paid off. Edmonton went back to Talbot on December 14 in Boston, and Talbot delivered.
The netminder turned away 47 shots from the Bruins, as the home team outshot the visiting Oilers 49-24. Talbot’s presence between the pipes spurred Edmonton to a 3-2 overtime win.
The players and coach made no bones about that night.
“We know that we stole one here tonight,” Head Coach Todd McLellan said after the game.
“Our goaltender played a tremendous game for us.”
Tremendous is the buzz word. It would come up again to describe Talbot a few games later.
On Monday, the Oilers hosted the Winnipeg Jets. Talbot was awarded his first home start since October 31. The Oilers were outplayed in many areas, but had their goalie steal them the game once again. There was no doubt, from the opening puck drop, that Talbot was dialled in, looking to replicate his performance in Boston.
The Oilers jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first, but the game might have played out differently had Talbot not stopped a shorthanded opportunity for the Jets just a few minutes in.
Blake Wheeler and Tyler Myers had a 2-on-1 and Talbot slid post to post, using his pad to kick the puck away, denying Myers his chance to seize momentum in a scoreless game. Teddy Purcell scored his first of two goals shortly thereafter. The netminder had more work cut out for him, however, as the Oil were outshot 17-7 in the second, and 16-3 in the third. Winnipeg was held without a goal on five power-play opportunities, thanks largely in part to Talbot.
“He was tremendous, wasn’t he? He was really good,” McLellan said after the 3-1 victory. “Minute 1 through 60, he was easily our best player. He looked very confident, made some incredible saves. We were very fortunate to have him tonight.”
Throughout the first part of this season, McLellan and the Oilers have maintained their desire to develop both Talbot and Nilsson, two goalies looking to prove themselves as starters in the NHL. Both have seen their performance improve as the season has moved along. It’s a good problem for a club to have when one goalie is hot, then another comes in and provides a string of good performances of his own. As many have said before, it’s also OK to have a goalie steal a game once in a while. Talbot has stolen two since patiently waiting through Nilsson’s streak.
“I think Dustin Schwartz has done a tremendous job with our goaltending tandem,” said McLellan. “His ability to sit with them and get them to believe in certain aspects of the game, then parlay it into practice time then get the goaltender’s confidence level up. Because Nilly had that run, doesn’t mean that the group in the room or the coaching staff or anybody else didn’t believe in Cam. We just ran a hot goalie for a while, and maybe we’ll do that again, because obviously Cam played tremendous tonight and his other starts were really good as well. Good for him. I’m proud of him, I’m happy for him and good for us.”
The Oilers invested assets in Talbot when they traded for him at the draft. They believe in his ability, and now he’s getting an opportunity to build off recent success.