In the final of a three-part series, it wouldn’t be fair to discuss the Edmonton Oilers success this season without mentioning the goaltending. In fact, as good as Connor McDavid is, there are many who will argue that the most valuable player of the Oilers season-to-date is starting netminder Cam Talbot.
Part I: The Forwards
Part II: The Defense
With no viable backup, Talbot has taken the reigns in Edmonton’s net and ran with them. He’s third in the NHL with wins for goalies at 26 but ranks first in games played at 45. In that time he’s tallied a 2.33 goals against average, a .922 save percentage and four shutouts. Impressively, he’s done all this while facing 96 more shots and being forced to make 90 more saves than any other goaltender in the NHL.
Talbot has erased any doubt that he’s a bonafide NHL starting netminder. He should be in the conversation as one of the NHL’s top-ten. Still, it wasn’t enough to make Talbot an All-Star this season.
That seems, at the very least, curious, but the Oilers aren’t complaining. After a small break which allowed now backup Laurent Brossoit to get a game in against the Calgary Flames, Talbot came back and led the Oilers to an important set of back-to-back victories against rival teams in California and an eight-to-one goal differential. The All-Star Break might be just what Talbot needs to continue his stellar play and take the Oilers to their first playoff appearance in a decade.
— Sportsnet Stats (@SNstats) January 26, 2017
Brossoit is now Edmonton’s official backup. He’s a veteran of the AHL, but a relative rookie in the NHL with less than 10 games on his resume. He earned his first win of his professional NHL career against the Calgary Flames on January 21st and played well in a 7-3 victory. The Oilers have high hopes for Brossoit and they’ll need to give him some more game action to see what they really have.
Because there’s no real proof that he’ll be able to cement himself as a backup that can keep employment in the pros, he should be looked at as a weakness on the goaltending side of things. With that in mind, he’s shown well, including a 51 save loss against the San Jose Sharks in 2014-15.
— Edmonton Journal (@EJ_Oilers) January 23, 2017
After being signed in the summer as a free agent, Gustavsson is now in Bakersfield of the AHL. While there, he’s played in three games, has a 2-1 record with a .900 save percentage and 3.03 goals-against average. Unfortunately, he’s proving that he was one of Peter Chiarelli’s poorer acquisition decisions and Gustavsson’s time in Edmonton is likely over barring an injury.
He was looked at as a questionable decision by many as there were more reputable, proven netminders on the open market. Realistically, Gustavsson was expected to be nothing more than a Band-aid between Laurent Brossoit’s AHL career and his jump to the NHL. He hasn’t worked out and Brossoit has been called up likely earlier than the Oilers might want. Edmonton could have given Gustavsson more time to rebound, but in doing so, the Oilers risked losing ground they’d gained in the standings and it speaks to why Talbot has played so many games.
The Goaltending Dilemma
It’s the mass amount of game action for Talbot that seems to be the real concern for the Oilers. A team that hasn’t made the playoffs in ten years badly wants to get back there. Obviously, the best chance to do so means playing Talbot. Are they risking playing him too much?
Talbot has never played this much professional hockey. He’s on pace for more than 70 games this season and should the Oilers make it the post-season, he’ll be asked to carry the load. That’s a lot for a goalie, who just this year, proved he’s a legit starter.
For the first time in our series, the answer, when looking at the goaltending as a whole is not as good as it seems. Talbot has been great. But, he’s playing out of this world hockey. The moment he slows down could mean trouble for the Oilers.
If Talbot tires or, heaven forbid, gets injured, it won’t take much for the Oilers season to take a turn. For that reason alone, management of the Oilers should address the position before the trade deadline.