If you read some of the papers this morning, then there is quite a bit going on about a goalie controversy here in New York. It was solidified even more when coach Alain Vigneault announced that Cam Talbot is the starter for tonight’s game against Winnipeg.
Talbot has been phenomenal in his first seven starts, and could push himself into the Calder conversation if his play continues. (That’s just a bad mistake on my part. Talbot is not eligible for the Calder, he is too old). Henrik Lundqvist is still an All-World goaltender, but he appears to be mortal this season. AV also noted that Hank is still the team’s #1 goaltender.
But let’s entertain this for a moment. Hank is struggling –somewhat– but his play recently has been more on par with what we’ve expected. Over his career Hank is a .920 SV% guy, and is currently at .917 SV%. That includes the San Jose and Anaheim games. Statistically he is on par with last season. So what’s the issue?
Well, Talbot’s play has forced the Rangers into rethinking their goalie strategy, or at least into giving Talbot more games. Talbot has allowed two goals or less in each of his starts this season, and has a ridiculous .944 SV% this season. His GAA of 1.44 is a full goal ahead of Hank’s 2.51 GAA, but some of that may have to do with how the Rangers play defense in front of each goalie (note: it changes). Suit outlined that here. Some of that definitely has to do with the 9-2 and 6-0 losses in California.
If Talbot gets more games, it is for multiple reasons. First, he’s earned it. Second, the schedule is condensed thanks to the Sochi Olympics in February, so Hank isn’t getting as much rest as he normally gets (with a competent backup, so look at the 2011-2012 season as a barometer). Third, the Rangers seem to play a more comfortable and familiar style in the defensive zone (see link above), so Talbot has been the beneficiary of some better defense.
But in the end, Talbot won’t keep up this kind of play. A .944 SV% is completely unsustainable, and it’s likely we will see him become more human as the season wears on. That said, it won’t affect his status as the backup goalie, and a very reliable backup goalie at that. Hank is still the starting goalie for this team, even if the 27-year-old Talbot has been lights out for a month. Nothing wrong with riding the hot hand.