Despite a three-game losing streak – their first since the beginning of December – the Edmonton Oilers are poised to return to the playoffs for the first time since reaching the Stanley Cup final in 2006. It’s a spot that is by no means secure, though, so Oilers coach Todd McLellan must walk a fine line between leaning on Cam Talbot and making sure he doesn’t burn his goaltender out.
Notwithstanding, or perhaps even including captain Connor McDavid, no one has been more valuable to the Oilers than has Talbot this season. The statistics are more than respectable. Talbot can claim a 26-15-7 record with a .920 save percentage, 2.37 goals-against average and four shutouts.
A deeper look shows out reliant the Oilers have been on him. The Oilers are third in the Pacific Division, seven points ahead of Calgary and eight in front of Los Angeles, albeit having played three more games than the Kings. Meanwhile, Talbot leads the league in games played (48), games started (48), shots against (1,417), saves (1,304) and minutes played (2,857:53). It’s not like the shots have been of the easy variety either. According to Corsica, Talbot has faced 267 high-danger scoring chances, more than any NHL goaltender.
Not surprisingly, Talbot, a backup with the New York Rangers before being acquired by the Oilers in June 2015, is relishing the all the action.
“This is what you work your whole career towards,” Talbot told reporters in January. “I was working my butt off day in, day out, in New York, hoping to get this opportunity at some point behind (Henrik Lundqvist). And Edmonton, I was lucky enough (they gave) me an opportunity last year. You’ve just got to be ready for it when you get it. … I feel great doing it.”
Talbot appeared in 56 games last season, starting 53. Barring injury, he’ll easily surpass those totals this season. The good news for the Oilers is Talbot already managed to get through a big increase in workload as he played just 36 games for the Rangers in 2014-15.
The Oilers have started a goaltender not named Talbot just six times this season. Jonas Gustavsson was waived after five starts and 23-year-old Laurent Brossoit has gotten the call once since. GM Peter Chiarelli has to be looking for positional depth ahead of the March 1 trade deadline.
The three-game slide is likely just a blip for the Oilers. It’s difficult to win when three goals are scored on the oppositions’ nets in 180 minutes of game play. Considering the Oilers boast the league’s 11th-best offence and have the top point-getter in McDavid, the small drought is nothing that isn’t likely to be corrected soon.
Still, Talbot continues to prove his worth. He allowed four goals in the last two losses and has posted at least a .913 save percentage in eight of his nine games. Simply put, the Oilers would not be where they are without him.
Talbot is the backbone of the Oilers and is essential to any success they could have the rest of the way. They’ll need him often and they’ll need him to be at his best. But they must guard against overuse, too.