The New York Rangers were back in action on Thursday at Madison Square Garden vs. the Chicago Blackhawks. It is the start of the second half of the season, and the Rangers are looking to improve upon a 27-16-3 record since starting 3-7-0.
Cam Talbot had the start over franchise netminder Henrik Lundqvist, and this could be a sign of things to come. The Rangers have a tight schedule the rest of the way, and Talbot has the opportunity to be the Blueshirts’ ultimate X-factor.
In the past, the Rangers have had to solely rely on Lundqvist down the stretch, but this year, they have a backup who has been just as good—if not better—for the Rangers. And it's a big deal that Talbot will be in goal against the defending Stanley Cup champions.
Lundqvist did play in all of Sweden’s games during the Winter Olympics, but he has had time to rest. Despite this, team brass decided to give the Rangers’ rookie the start in goal. It makes sense because Talbot should be starting as many games as possible seeing as how Lundqvist could be fatigued down the stretch.
There are 23 games left in the regular season for the Rangers. Ten of those are home games, and the remaining 13 are on the road.
Of the remaining 13 road games, there is a four-game swing through Western Canada that ends with a matchup vs. the Colorado Avalanche.
During the month of March, the Rangers will play 16 games in 31 days, including three back-to-backs with two coming on the road—the first inMinnesota and Winnipeg and the second inColumbus and New Jersey. All of these games and the tight travel schedule will force head coach Alain Vigneault to give Cam Talbot some extra starts.
Here is how things currently stand with the two netminders.
|Henrik Lundqvist||22-18-3||.918 SV %||2.44 GAA||3 SOs|
|Cam Talbot||11-5-0||.938 SV %||1.75 GAA||2 SOs|
As you can see, both have solid numbers, but of the remaining games, how many will be started by Lundqvist, and how many starts will be given to Talbot?
Talbot was victorious vs. Chicago, so that leave 23 games. Based on Lundqvist’s history, he will likely start 14 or 15 of the remaining games. That would leave seven or eight starts for Talbot.
How many starts should Talbot make the rest of the season?
Talbot has played very well this year, and eight or nine more starts would put him at a total of 24 or 25 games played. That would leave Lundqvist with 56 or 57 starts, one of the lowest totals of his career.
Although Lundqvist is the team’s top netminder, logic would dictate riding Talbot while the going is good. He has shown that he can be counted on to earn a win, and a win without Lundqvist in net is just a golden situation for the Rangers.
Obviously, the Metropolitan Division could tighten up even more down the stretch, and that could force Vigneault to ride his workhorse goaltender. As long as Lundqvist doesn’t start 18 or 19 of the remaining games, he will be on pace for what he played the last two years.
Lundqvist routinely started 70-plus games in the beginning of his NHL career, but former Rangers head coach John Tortorella decided to start reducing that number in the 2010-11 season to keep his netminder fresh for the playoffs. Appearing in 60 games is a good number for Lundqvist because it means he gets his starts still has enough time to rest for the playoffs.
The Rangers have an amazing luxury. They have two very good goaltenders, and they are in a position to make a nice push for the playoffs. They have an opportunity to finish the season with a solid record and may not have to sacrifice their starter’s stamina in the process.
The handling of Talbot and Lundqvist will be interesting to watch, and a rested Lundqvist could make a world of a difference come playoff time.
Stats via NHL.com.