When the Edmonton Oilers decided to jump into to the off-season trade market and acquire Cam Talbot from the New York Rangers, this organization was hoping they had finally acquired a No. 1 netminder. While it was far from a guarantee, many felt parting ways with a pair of draft picks was a risk well worth taking.
Oilers will reward Anders Nilsson for his play last night in Anaheim with the start tonight vs Coyotes.
— John Shannon (@JSportsnet) November 12, 2015
Now it may still be early on but the fact Todd McLellan decided to go with Anders Nilsson in four of the Oilers last five games, tells us all we need to know. This is not about a coaching staff losing confidence in their go-to-guy. No, it is strictly about sending a message to one of your key players. Talbot’s recent performance has simply not been good enough and it needs to change…in a real hurry.
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While using a starting goalie on back-to-back nights is a rarity in today’s game, having a team’s backup go on consecutive evenings is something that never happens. And yet that is exactly what McLellan did during Edmonton 4-1 loss to the Arizona Coyotes on Thursday night. After coming from behind to edge the Anaheim Ducks 4-3 in overtime, thanks in large part to strong performance from Nilsson, using a well-rested Talbot against David Tippett’s surprising squad seemed to be a no-brainer.
However, the Oilers new bench boss decided to take a different route. After sitting for a week and having nothing more than an average outing in Sunday’s 4-2 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks, there is no doubt in my mind Talbot fully expected to be in between the pipes against either Anaheim or Arizona. Instead, he found himself stapled to the bench during both games and probably wondering what was going on. After all, this was supposed to be his chance to prove his worth as a legitimate starter and not become part of a rotating tandem.
After starting his season with six solid outings, the 28-year old has been headed in the opposite direction ever since. Outside of bouncing back from a tough first period against the Montreal Canadiens, in a game in which Edmonton ultimately came back to win in regulation time, Talbot has made a point of allowing at least one iffy goal against in each of his last four games. In fairness, we are talking about a small sample size here but actions speak louder than words and McLellan left little to the imagination.
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As well as Nilsson played in Anaheim and against the Pittsburgh Penguins, the towering Swede had little to do during the Oilers 4-2 win over the lowly Philadelphia Flyers and wasn’t very good against the Coyotes. In other words, the 25-year old has been solid but hardly spectacular. Barring some sort of significant injury, the only way a No. 2 guy tends to take over the crease from the top dog is if he is playing out of his mind…and yes I am looking squarely at you Michal Neuvirth. That has not been the case in Edmonton.
During his first handful of starts, Talbot was not only stopping the pucks he was supposed to but looked rock solid in doing so. From a positional standpoint, he was as sound as could be and rarely out of position. Add to that his impeccable rebound control and it looked as if the organization’s prayers had been answered. Unfortunately for both the player and club, none of that has carried through into the second month of the season and not surprisingly, he has started to fight the puck with some regularity.
Being a No.1 Goalie Is Not Easy
With that said, it is funny how many goaltenders will change their tune in the media when they are not at their best. Earlier in the year, Talbot was routinely taking responsibility for pucks that were getting past him in situations he had little chance in stopping. However, that all changed during his last kick at the can against the Hawks. It was no longer about “not making the save” but instead the focus had turned to tough breaks and not playing well enough as a team.
No matter how you look at it, the ball is back in Cam Talbot’s court and it is up to him to make the most of it. He will get the start in the Edmonton Oilers next game against the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday night and for his sake he had better be on his game. Again, it may be early but with Connor McDavid out of action for the next two or three months, this group is going to have trouble scoring and it can ill afford to have their netminder coughing up soft goals with any sort of regularity. One thing we can be sure of, Todd McLellan has no issue going with the “hot-hand” and as of this moment, that is not the guy wearing the No.33 on his back.
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.