When Alain Vigneault left the Great White North, it is safe to say that he assumed that he would not have to deal with any goaltending controversies considering the New York Rangers' situation in net. Well Alain, guess again! The Rangers currently have a situation brewing with their starter and backup, and there are a lot of ways in which AV can handle the situation.
The last time Vigneault tapped his backup for a second start in a row, it backfired in the form of a 5-2 loss against the Winnipeg Jets, and the New York Rangers subsequently announced the extension of franchise netminder Henrik Lundqvist two days later.
This time around, the Prince of Gotham—aka Cam Talbot—has won back-to-back starts in decisive fashion. However, as previously stated, the Rangers have thoroughly invested their future in Lundqvist, so how should Vigneault handle the Talbot-Lundqvist situation without making this more of an issue than it already is?
It is cliche—and a cheap phrase to use for the sake of transition—but for the interim, Vigneault has to ride the "hot hand."
UPDATE: December 27, 2013 12:48 p. m. E.S.T.
Talbot has been confirmed as the starter against the Washington Capitals.
Talbot starting third straight, despite taking a shot this AM ... well... below the belt #NYR— Pat Leonard (@PLeonardNYDN) December 27, 2013
Lundqvist says he wasn't expecting to start. Says Talbot and team both have played well, and he is not stopping the puck #NYR— Pat Leonard (@PLeonardNYDN) December 27, 2013
-End of Update-
A few weeks from now that could change, but in a year where the backup has been king, it makes perfect sense to start the hot netminder.
NHLcom | *Asterisk* demotes rank amongst goalies with less than 20 starts
Thus far, Talbot has a stellar record of 8-2-0 with 1.60 goals against average, a .938 save percentage and two shutouts in 12 games played. These are amazing numbers, and much better than those of the $8.5 million man.
While there is no question that Lundqvist is the guy in New York, and he is being paid to play the majority of games for the Rangers, right now picking up wins and points is more important than making sure "HL30" is being treated the right way.
Another reason why Vigneault should keep playing Talbot is because of how the team has responded while he is in net. Some fans have taken to calling the Rangers backup "Calm Talbot" because of his smooth and unflappable demeanor while in net. The team has also seemed more confident and relaxed during the last two games, so it would be prudent of Vigneault to not upset the Big Apple cart.
Lundqvist ultimately is the team's starter, but right now, his play doesn't warrant a start in goal.
The Blueshirts bench boss has been adamant about players giving a consistent effort and being better, and that philosophy will be completely destroyed if he goes back to the struggling Lundqvist.
A few weeks ago, Vigneault talked about the Rangers'.500 compete level, but that has changed with Talbot in goal. When Talbot plays, the team has responded, and that is reflected in his record.
As a coach, Vigneault needs to use this moment to establish credibility with his players, fans and the media. If Vigneault decides to bench Talbot simply because of Lundqvist’s reputation and contract, he will be viewed as a hypocrite because he would not be putting his best players in a position to succeed.
Ultimately, AV could run into an interim controversy if Talbot continues to be a world beater for the Rangers, but fortunately, the month of January can help Vigneault avoid a full blown goaltending controversy.
Due to the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games, the NHL schedule is more condensed than usual.
Taking 20 days off in February forced the schedule makers to get creative, and the Rangers will be very busy next month. During the month of January, the Rangers will have two back-to-backs, and they will only have a day off between games for the first four weeks of the month.
The first real break comes on Jan. 24, as the Blueshirts will have two full off days before taking on the New Jersey Devils.
What this means is that Vigneault will have no choice when it comes to distributing the work load between his two netminders. Talbot is playing well right now, but he doesn't have the body of work to suggest that he could become the pseudo-starter for the month of January.
What should the Rangers do with their goaltending situation?
Eventually, the schedule will force Vigneault’s hand, and both goalies will get a chance, regardless of their successes or lack thereof.
The primary goal for Lundqvist and the Rangers is to win the Stanley Cup. He is being paid handsomely to help accomplish this, but right now, the Blueshirts are getting bargain goaltending from Talbot.
There is no question that Lundqvist will be the guy during the playoffs, but it is currently Talbot's net to lose. Ultimately, Talbot was going to get a certain number of starts so that Lundqvist would be fresh for the playoffs, and it just so happens that he is getting his starts earlier than planned.
In short, Talbot is the guy for the moment, and he is playing on borrowed time. Lundqvist will ultimately get starts, and rather than making a statement on his own, Vigneault should use the Olympics and schedule to his advantage to snuff out any thoughts of a goaltending controversy.
Lucky enough for Lundqvist, he should be safe no matter what because he has the same contract provision as Roberto Luongo:
It is hard to believe that there will be a controversy for long, because Lundqvist is going to bounce back. He has a history of success, and his poor play can be written off as an anomaly—for now. Until that point, the best thing Ranger fans can do is "Keep Cam and Cheer On" while Talbot dazzles in net.
Lundqvist will get his day again, but right now I can imagine Vigneault channeling his inner Don Corleone by saying, "Henrik the decision isn't personal, it's strictly business."