Despite his limited playing time between the pipes for the Calgary Flames this season, Cam Talbot has been described as the ‘ultimate teammate’. He has put in a consistent effort at practice, kept a positive attitude and provided support for his goalie partner, David Rittich. He has stayed ready for the eventuality his name would get called, and when the net has been his this season, he has provided solid goaltending.
Rittich (14-7-0) has been challenging the concept of ‘load management’ in the first portion of the 2019-20 NHL campaign, playing a league-leading 1509:31 minutes (TOI). He has posted a 2.74 goals-against average (GAA) and a .913 save percentage (SV%) and has been the MVP for Calgary early on, truly earning the moniker ‘Big-Save-Dave’. So, Talbot has had to wait patiently for his starts so far, but it’s plausible to suggest he will be a more familiar face in the Flames net moving forward.
It Takes Two to Tango
There has been an organizational need for stability in Calgary early on in the season and Rittich has been the go-to guy to provide it. There have been lengthy scoring slumps, a player health scare with T.J. Brodie and even an unprecedented coaching change, but Rittich’s consistency has kept the Flames’ ship afloat. However, playing approximately 78% of the games is not necessarily a desirable goaltending model in today’s game, it is likely Talbot will be leaned on more as the season rolls along.
Talbot has appeared in nine games this season (3-5-0) posting a 3.05 GAA and .907 SV%. It is worth noting that, even though his record didn’t indicate it, (losing five of six to start the season) he played well in the majority of his starts and gave his team a chance to win. Unfortunately, he didn’t get great efforts from a Flames team that was struggling to find its identity in October and November. However, Talbot has won his last two starts since the coaching change, making 46 saves in a win against the Arizona Coyotes (Dec. 10), while the Flames have gone 6-0-0 under interim head coach, Geoff Ward.
Is Load Management Relevant in the NHL?
At the current pace, Rittich is projected to start 64 games for the Flames this season. His career-high is 42, which he made last season (2018-19), but his production dropped off in the second half of the season, which leads to speculation about his conditioning and his ability to handle a heavy workload. He has been a solid goaltender this season, but if he wants to shake the lingering ‘1A’ classification as a netminder, he’ll need to be able to play in the range of 55-65 games, but that isn’t necessarily ideal from a team perspective.
For comparison, goalies: Minnesota Wild – Devan Dubnyk (66), Montreal Canadiens – Carey Price (64), Winnipeg Jets – Connor Hellebuyck (62) and San Jose Sharks – Martin Jones (62) were at the top of the league for starts in 2018-19, but ultimately either failed to make the playoffs (MIN, MTL) or were ousted in the first round (WPG, SJS). It appears the fatigue has carried over to this season, as Montreal, Minnesota and San Jose are all currently out of a playoff spot (as of Dec. 11.)
In today’s game, it is imperative that a team carry two goaltenders who can share the load and keep one another fresh for when it really matters. That being said, some goalies prefer to play a lot and would probably play every game if they could, and Talbot has shown a tendency in his career to play well when he plays often.
Been There, Done That
Talbot has been an effective backup goalie in the past. When he was with the New York Rangers (2013-2015), he played exceptionally while filling in for the injured Henrik Lundqvist. He went (16-4-3) helping the Rangers solidify a 113-point season in 2015. His efforts earned him the starting role with the Edmonton Oilers the next year and he would eventually put together a marathon season in 2016-17.
In his second campaign with the Oilers (2016-17), Talbot started 73 games in the 82-game regular season, setting an Oilers’ record. He finished the season tied for first in the NHL in wins (42) and time on ice (4,294). His 42 wins also surpassed former Oilers’ great, Grant Fuhr, for the most wins in a single season in franchise history. Talbot is no stranger to carrying a heavy workload, yet he has been used sparingly this season in Calgary playing behind Rittich. Still, his resume suggests that there may be a game-saver waiting in the wings.
Talbot’s experience playing a big backup role and propelling his team into the postseason is something that can bode well for the Flames moving forward this season. Rittich will need to lighten his load at some point in the second half of the season and should the Flames make the playoffs in 2020, a refreshed Rittich will be a key factor for an extended run.