EDMONTON, AB - Todd McLellan has a problem on his hands, but it’s one he might rather have than not.
All three of the head coach’s goaltenders, who are locked in a competition for two spots, have played competitive hockey in helping the Oilers to a perfect 5-0-0 record so far this pre-season.
Having Anders Nilsson, Ben Scrivens and Cam Talbot all playing well is a good problem to have, but decision time for McLellan is coming, and it’s coming fast.
The Oilers have three pre-season games left, beginning Tuesday night at home against the Arizona Coyotes. McLellan has to balance giving all three guys a fair look with getting his eventual number one the right amount of preparation leading up to the club’s season opener in St. Louis on October 8.
Practice reps aren’t the same as game reps, so divvying up ice time in a competition like this is difficult.
“It’s hard. It really is,” said McLellan. “It’s probably not fair to the goalies because the goalies want the game situations. They want the opposition crashing the net. It truly is hard. I don’t think we want to add five more exhibition games, that would just be too much, but I bet you the goalies would like to.”
As of Monday after the Oilers morning practice at Rexall Place, all three goalies were in the dark as to what the plan is moving forward. Their head coach is too. As to how they split the games or which combination of two stays for the regular season, decisions have yet to be made.
“There’s an internal discussion that has to happen with the coaching staff and management as we move forward,” said McLellan. “We obviously would prefer not to have three on our roster, as we move forward. I think that’s the case.
“We have got to make some decisions and we have to make sure we’ve allowed the goaltenders to show us what they have, but also prepare at least one of them to start in St. Louis. We’ve got a tough task ahead of us. All three have been very competitive and have worked hard and have done the things we’ve asked them to do so far.”
Competition in professional sports can be stressful. Maybe this particular pre-season battle would be more stressful if not for the relationship the three have with one another. From the smiles on their faces at practice, you wouldn’t know decision time is an unstoppable event coming for them at an increasing pace.
“They’re two great guys… We have a lot of fun on the ice and we’re competing and we’re push each other and I think all of us are making each other better. I think we’re a great goalie group and we all have a lot of fun,” said Nilsson.
“It’s always easy to get along and work hard with good guys,” said Scrivens. “Cam and Anders are both really good people so it’s easy. We’re all on the same page, we all get along, we all understand what’s going on. No one is out there hogging the net or kicking holes in the crease when they leave or anything. We’re all good guys.”
Photo by Steve Hiscock / Saskatoon Blades
Talbot agrees that it’s been all fun and laughs.
“I think there’s good, healthy competition between the three of us,” said Talbot. “We’re all good buddies off the ice so it makes it fun to compete against each other on the ice too.”
Nilsson, acquired in a trade with Chicago on July 6, is easy to recognize as he towers over a lot of the Oilers roster at 6-foot-5 and some change on skates. His numbers on the stat sheet are good as well, as he’s been flawless in his time between the pipes these pre-season games. Nilsson has stopped all 42 shots he’s faced, including his 25-save shutout of Minnesota on Saturday, and he’s hoping to face a lot more before the exhibition schedule comes to a close or a decision is made.
“Every game is important now in the pre-season, especially with the competition,” said Nilsson. “We’re going to have three games left and I don’t know who is going to play and how the game plan is going to be but I’m going to try to control what I can do and that’s stopping as many pucks as possible.”
Scrivens, the lone holdover between the pipes from last season, has made 43 saves on 47 shots faced so far. 31 of those came in his full game on Friday night, in Winnipeg. His strong third period against the Jets helped with their impressive comeback. Edmonton was down 3-0 after the second, but won 4-3 in overtime. McLellan said Scrivens’ saves in the third helped them “claw back in.”
Acquired at the draft via trade with the New York Rangers, Talbot has stopped 43 of 46 shots this pre-season. In his full game of action last Wednesday, Talbot made 30 saves, leading the Oil to a 3-2 win over the Jets at home. He had his work cut out for him in the first period of that game, making 16 saves and 24 by the end of two. Early on, the Oilers got into penalty trouble, and it was Talbot’s steady glove that kept the Jets at bay.
Talbot, like Nilsson, hopes to get another full game in before the regular season as part of the competition and his preparation for the regular season, where he hopes to be the Oilers go-to guy after all is said and done.
“Ideally, I’d like to get another full game for sure, just to get that feeling of playing 60 minutes again. That’s kind of what I’d like to do moving forward, if possible,” he said.
None of the three goalies knows what the pecking order will shake out to be. They all have their own personal goals and an ideal scenario for the rest of the pre-season in mind. All three agreed things are out of their hands, but until a decision is made, they all will continue to battle it out, while maintaining a truly friendly competition.
“At the end of the day, we’re all trying to play for the Edmonton Oilers,” said Scrivens. “It’s a definite ‘team-first’ attitude from all three of us.”