SAN JOSE – The odds couldn’t have been more stacked against Cam Talbot from the start.
Devoid of action since his final pre-season start 17 days earlier, the 32-year-old netminder was summoned for his Flames debut in the most hostile of environs.
Playing in a notoriously tough building against a desperate Sharks club, the ask was that Talbot chip off the rust to backstop a bunch that had its work ethic questioned by the coach a night earlier in Vegas.
Oh, and to ramp up the emotion of the hosts, it was Patrick Marleau 2.0 Night, as the 40-year-old legend had his homecoming in teal.
Who, then, could have been surprised when the Sharks’ first shot on net found its way to the very back of it?
It was a theme of Talbot’s a year ago in Edmonton where the Flames reclamation project often struggled early.
Fact is, this one wasn’t on him at all – the first goal or the game.
A fluky deflection off the toe of net-front Timo Meier three minutes in was followed by a rocket from a streaking Kevin Labanc at the faceoff dot that had the hosts up 2-0 by the ten-minute mark.
Neither could be pinned on Talbot whose club truly deserved a better fate on a night in which they out-shot Martin Jones and the Sharks 33-20.
Having allowed the first goal of the game for the fifth time in their six outings, the Flames spent the rest of the night chasing the game while Talbot did his part to keep it close with several huge stops, including a save on a Logan Couture breakaway.
“He was good – there’s no issue there,” said coach Bill Peters of Talbot’s 17-save effort in a 3-1 loss.
“First one goes off a guy’s foot in the paint, no kicking motion. Second he didn’t have much of a chance. He made the saves he needed to make so that was good to see.”
Peters said what was also good to see was the improved work ethic of his team, who some might go as far as to say deserved a better fate.
“It was 2-0, but I liked our start,” said Peters, frustrated with his club’s showing one night earlier in Vegas, a 6-2 drubbing.
“I thought we had everybody emotionally and physically engaged.”
Mikael Backlund, the Flames’ best skater with six shots, a breakaway and a drawn penalty, said the process was a good one even though the result wasn’t.
“I thought that was our best game of the road trip,” said Talbot, whose club got within one early in the second when Elias Lindholm redirected a T.J. Brodie point shot past Jones.
“We battled hard all night tonight and probably deserved a better result. Even though it’s not the result you wanted, sometimes you can build off little things that you do throughout a game that can become a positive trend for us moving forward. We have to take those, build off them, and move on.”
Shortly after Sean Monahan hit the post on a Flames powerplay that would have knotted the game, the Sharks inserted a dagger the Flames simply couldn’t extract from their hearts late in the second when Tomas Hertl converted a short-handed 2-on-1 with Couture that Talbot had little chance on.
“It took me a little while to settle in,” said Talbot, whose club finished its three game roadie through Dallas, Vegas and San Jose with just two points earned in a shootout against the Stars.
“Obviously the first one going off a skate wasn’t the ideal start that I wanted. To be honest, I would’ve preferred a few more shots to get into it. But those are the kind of games that you have to battle through and stay focused. Thought I did that throughout. Just needed to come up with one extra save and get a better bounce.”
Talbot signed as a free agent this summer to replace Mike Smith and split roughly half the starts with David Rittich, and was originally slated to start Game 3 against L.A.
However, a shutout by Rittich his previous outing prolonged the Czech’s five-game run to open the season – a decision Talbot took no issue with.
Suffice it to say you’ll see plenty more of Talbot in the near future as the coach looks to balance the workload a little more, while also rewarding the hot hand.
Considered a major question heading into the Flames’ season, the Flames’ goaltending has been good enough for the team to be better than its 2-3-1 record.
The team has yet to hit its stride, as was the case last year when the Flames were a .500 club 10 games in before exploding for a 50-win, 107-point season to win the west.
The Flames host Philadelphia Tuesday and Detroit Thursday before returning to California next weekend.