Never before as a Flame has Cam Talbot been presented a better opportunity than the one he’ll get tonight.
In a year full of gruesome assignments and poor offensive support, the Flames 32-year-old backup is finally getting a plum assignment.
A rare start at home against a New York Rangers team he cut his NHL teeth with, sets the table for as good a chance as any for him to improve on his 3-7 record.
Rested and hungry to stop a five-game losing skid at home, Talbot’s teammates are highly motivated to atone for some of the horrific offensive outings they’ve had with Talbot in net.
“Sometimes you just don’t get the run support when you’re in there,” shrugged Talbot, who has played well despite his win-loss record.
“But I feel like if I keep playing the way I’m playing and we start scoring some goals then the wins are going to take care of themselves.”
Interim coach Geoff Ward insists the fact David Rittich has faltered on his way to surrendering early 3-0 deficits in each of his last two starts has little to do with Talbot’s starting status.
“This is a game he was going to get anyway, playing against his old team give him a little bit of juice,” said Ward.
“We’re not pointing the finger at David Rittich. We hung him out to dry on a couple of those goals the other night and he’s played an awful lot of good hockey for us. We’re confident in him. So, it’s no reflection on him.”
Talbot, who has made appearances in five of the Flames last dozen games, spelled off Rittich early two games ago, and will have to be sharp early to avoid a third-consecutive Flames flop.
“If we don’t come out as hard as we might like hopefully I can come up with a save or two to keep us in the game,” said Talbot, whose play will be key during the second half of the season as the team tries to ensure Rittich isn’t overplayed.
“I feel pretty good about my game coming into it.”
As he should, considering his save percentage (.915) and GAA (2.73) are better than any of the other three goalies dressing in tonight’s game at the Saddledome, including his former teammate, “King” Henrik Lundqvist.
“The first thing I noticed was his work ethic,” said Talbot when asked about his tandem-mate as a rookie in 2013 to 2015.
“The guy hates getting scored on in practice as much as he does in the games. His mentality and his competitiveness fuels his fire, and that’s why he’s been able to be so good for so long.”
The Rangers won’t confirm their starter until tonight, as only a few players skated in Calgary Thursday morning. Either way, Talbot likes the idea of facing the Blueshirts.
“I’ve been pretty far removed from this group – there are only four guys on that roster I actually played with now – so it’s not the same as it was four or five years ago, but it’s still fun to play against guys like Kreider, who is a good buddy of mine – and Hank, if he’s starting. It’s always fun to go up against a former mentor and one of the best guys to ever do it.”
After missing the New Years’ Eve game due to illness, TJ Brodie will draw back into the lineup at Michael’s Stone’s expense.
Ward shuffled his forward lines again in the morning skate but insisted little should be read into just how they’ll start the game.
Tobias Rieder will start alongside Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan on the second line as Ward has Mikael Backlund back in the middle of the third unit with Sam Bennett and Michael Frolik.
“We felt like tonight we wanted a little more experience down the middle tonight,” said Ward, who has Elias Lindholm centering the top unit with Andrew Mangiapane and Matthew Tkachuk.
“We’ll start that way, but it’s a work in progress.”