On October 15, Alain Vigneault shocked the world when he announced at a press conference that Martin Biron was being demoted, and Cam Talbot was tapped to be the New York Rangers' new backup netminder. It was a surprising move considering how important Biron was in the dressing room, but the ballsy decision has paid huge dividends for the Rangers.
Vigneault's confidence in Talbot has been evident early on, and it looks like the Rangers have a potential successor for Henrik Lundqvist. If nothing else, Vigneault's trust in Talbot has added a youthful netminder who can be counted on for more starts than the aging and newly retired Biron.
On Saturday night, Talbot extended his shutout streak to 146:28 with a 2-0 victory over the Nashville Predators. It was the 26-year-old's second straight shutout; he previously blanked the Montreal Canadiens 1-0 at the Bell Centre.
With the win in the Music City, Talbot improved to 5-1-0 on the year. His goals-against average (GAA) dropped to 1.32, while his save percentage jumped to .949. Saturday's start was business as usual for Talbot, and it was another start in which he remained calm, cool and collected in goal.
During the telecast on MSG Network, analyst Joe Micheletti talked about a conversation he had with the Predators' goaltending coach Mitch Korn before the game. Korn described Talbot as calm and consistent in net, and he said that Talbot reminded him of a bigger Hank (Lundqvist).
While Talbot's performance to date has been impressive, he has quite a ways to go before he earns Lundqvist-like recognition.
However, Talbot will get that chance as the season continues. Vigneault plans on using Talbot frequently to give Lundqvist the rest he needs, and he spoke about that with Pat Leonard of the New York Daily News. “Well, we’ve got nine (games) in 15 nights, two back-to-back,” said Vigneault, “so I figure six and three was a good ratio. He’s played well, and it’s his turn to play (Saturday) night.”
In addition to speaking with Vigneault, Leonard spoke with Lundqvist. He had a lot to say about the rotation in goal and the play of Talbot thus far.
The last couple years I think that’s something we’re trying to do, play three, sit out one, you look at (playing around) 60 games and hopefully a long playoffs. I think it’s a smart move, Lundqvist said. I do want to play, but in the long run I know from two years ago (it’s the best thing): Practice well and stay ready.
When it came to Talbot, the Rangers starter said,
I like his speed. He’s quick on his feet. I think looking at him now compared to three years ago, I think definitely his foot speed has improved a lot. In this game today, I think that’s key that you can move fast and read the game well. And confidence, that’s a big thing.
He’s not 19 or 20 years old. He’s been playing for a long time. He’s been around this organization for a few years and a lot of times for the team it starts with confidence with the goalie, and he’s been playing with a lot of poise. That brings confidence to the group as well when you make the saves you’re supposed to.
The current situation in goal is great for both the Rangers and Talbot.
From the Rangers' side of things, they have a youngish goaltender who can win games and give Lundqvist relief when needed. From Talbot's perspective, he is learning from the world's top goaltender, and he's gaining valuable experience.
Success in goal is based on a number of things, and Talbot can pick up many of those skills from Lundqvist. He can adopt training methods, positioning and insider tips that help him gain an edge over the competition.
Talbot has some innate skill already, and that is evident in his demeanor and size.
The Rangers' backup is 6'3" and 205 pounds, but he moves very well for a bigger goaltender. His size allows him to take up a big part of the net, and his positioning allows him to scoop up rebounds.
You could continue to talk about all the great things Talbot has done since joining the organization, but they would be for naught if Vigneault didn't show confidence in him. AV liked what he saw from Talbot in the preseason, and he decided to give him a shot when Biron failed to perform.
The move certainly was one of the gutsier moves the organization has made in recent years, but it has paid huge dividends early on in 2013-14.
*All stats are via NHL.com unless otherwise noted.