We are now 23 days into the month of November and the Edmonton Oilers have played nine games, posting a 3-5-1 mark. While their record may not be where they want it to be, the fact the Oilers have handed over the starters role to Anders Nilsson over the past three weeks is nothing short of astonishing. After all, the 2015-16 campaign was supposed to be a coming-out party for one Cam Talbot.
Remember when local talking heads actually thought Ben Scrivens was gonna beat out Anders Nilsson for the backup job?
— Sam Gaudronahan (@akaRCN) November 24, 2015
Instead, here we sit…at the quarter pole of the season and Nilsson is coming off a third consecutive start and in the midst of a run in which he has been this club’s starting netminder in seven of the last their nine games. Despite dropping a 1-0 decision to Braden Holtby and the Washington Capitals on Monday night, the towering Swede continues to arguably be the biggest surprise of the season for the team wearing Orange and Blue.
While Talbot appeared to be headed for a year in which he could likely start upwards of 50 games, the former New York Rangers backup has essentially forced Todd McLellan to take him out of the net. In his only two starts of the month, the 28-year old has gone 0-2 with a 3.59 GAA and a .857 SV%. With this coming on the heels of rather tough finish to the end of October, it now leaves his overall totals among the worst in the league.
We Are Talking About A Small Sample Size
Make no mistake, we are talking about a small sample size here but simply dismissing it as a rough patch is a luxury this organization does not have. As previously mentioned, Edmonton is a quarter of the way through their schedule and Talbot has a 3-8 record, 3.09 GAA and a .890 SV% in 12 appearances. Those last two numbers leave him sitting in 42nd and 43rd spot among NHL goaltenders and that is simply not good enough for a guy with absolutely no track record of being a No. 1 netminder at this level.
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Now if it were up to me, Talbot would have likely been given a slightly longer leash but one can certainly understand why McLellan decided to go in the direction he has. As the head coach of this team, he is trying to get these players to play the game a certain way and in order for him to hold up his end of the bargain, the former San Jose Sharks bench boss has to put guys in the lineup who give them the best chance of winning hockey games.
As of this moment, Nilsson is that guy…even though his numbers have been far from stellar. In today’s NHL a 2.83 GAA and .908 SV% is far from anything to write home about but outside of being torched by the Capitals in early October for six goals in just over 31 minutes, the 25-year old has given his team a shot to win in almost every one of his other nine starts. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about Talbot.
The Job Is Now Nilsson’s To Lose
With the Oilers’ upcoming schedule being what it is, chances are we will see Nilsson make his fourth straight start on Wednesday night against the Carolina Hurricanes and then watch the two split games against the Detroit Red Wings and Pittsburgh Penguins to close out the week. Should the former third-round pick of the New York Islanders have solid showings in his two starts, there is likely zero chance of him losing his current status as the team’s go-to-guy in between the pipes.
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At the end of the day, it is all about opportunity and making the most of it. Heading into the 2015-16 season, it looked as though both Cam Talbot and Anders Nilsson would get a chance to prove their worth as members of the Edmonton Oilers. While it may still be early, only one of the two has come anywhere close to delivering on the sort of performance this organization was counting on. Not exactly the outcome Peter Chiarelli and company were hoping for.
Rob Soria is the Author of Connor McDavid: Hockey’s Next Great One. He has chronicled the Orange and Blue since creating his Oil Drop blog in 2011 and has also had his writings featured over at HometownHockey.ca and Vavel USA, where he has covered the NHL, MLB and ATP Tour. Rob was born, raised and still resides in Edmonton, Alberta and can be reached via twitter @Oil_Drop.