While the Edmonton Oilers have stockpiled young offensive talent over the past several years, the team’s longtime crutch has been their back-end.
The club’s goaltending has been problematic for a number of seasons. The situation was seemingly remedied when GM Peter Chiarelli brought in former New York Rangers backup Cam Talbot.
Through six games (five starts, one appearance in relief), Talbot has started to show inklings of his true talent. He hasn’t been a home run quite yet – Talbot has helped his club win only two out of five starts – but he’s put forth some very solid performances, most notably in his last two starts.
The 28-year-old took some time to settle in over his first three games with the team, and certainly didn’t catch any breaks as he opened his season against the St. Louis Blues (twice) and the Nashville Predators – two bona fide Western Conference titans.
However, in Talbot’s past two starts against Detroit and Calgary, the first-year starter allowed only three goals on a combined 53 shots, allowing the Oilers to post their first two wins of the season.
The first of those three tallies, scored in the first period of the Flames tilt by winger David Jones was a tipped point shot through traffic, which just barely trickled in. Jones scored a second tally on Talbot on the powerplay, as the Flames caught Edmonton’s defenders standing still at their own blue-line, allowing Jones to easily sidestep them and enter the zone with a clear shot at Talbot.
Detroit’s Tomas Tatar also netted the third of these goals against Talbot, after the netminder stopped an initial shot by Gustav Nyquist but allowed a rolling rebound that Tatar picked up and slipped into the back of the cage.
Suffice to say, none of the three were embarrassing showings from Talbot. All three were difficult plays for the netminder due to either circumstance or defensive breakdowns, and all three came amidst a flurry of exceptional saves.
Against the Red Wings, Talbot turned aside 12 shots in the third period as Detroit attempted to cut down the Oilers’ 3-1 lead. While the Tatar goal was allowed through, Talbot’s exceptional play allowed Edmonton to hold onto the lead despite being outshot 13-6 in the final frame.
The same was true against Calgary, as the Flames outshot Edmonton 11-9 in the third period, but got only one puck by Talbot. Limiting Calgary to only one tally in the third, the Oilers were able to extend their lead with three goals of their own by the end of the contest, leaving with a dominant win.
Through his 324 minutes of play thus far, Talbot has earned a goals-against-average of 2.22 (the 11th-best mark of all goaltenders who have played in five or more games thus far this season) and a save-percentage of .918 (the 12th-best mark among this group).
The sample size is still small and the season is young, but it’s already clear that Talbot is a notable upgrade over the Oilers’ previous options in the cage. Perhaps most encouraging for the Oilers faithful is the fact that Talbot’s numbers thus far align well with his previous performance in New York. He impressed in place of an injured Henrik Lundqvist last season while posting a goals-against-average of 2.21 and save-percentage of .926.
Talbot has continued to play at that level this season, which should be notable for the Oilers considering those numbers were good for 21 wins in 36 games for the Rangers. Crucial in that victorious run last season, however, was the fact that New York finished the year as the third-highest scoring team in the league – concluding the campaign with a goals-for per game mark of 3.02.
Edmonton certainly doesn’t seem to be as well-oiled a machine as the Rangers just yet, but with McDavid already showing his offensive chops this season (he currently has eight points through eight games) and the club boasting a well-documented stock of other exceptional scoring talents, Edmonton certainly has the potential to find much more offensive success this season.
Should they do so, it seems Talbot should be able to hold down the fort on the back-end, giving the team a significantly improved chance of coming away with wins each night.
There’s still much to be sorted out on the Oilers’ blue-line, but it’s clear that the team is on the upswing, and Talbot is slowly proving to be a worthwhile gamble.