Jobs at stake in Edmonton after Oilers come up empty again

Vegas Golden Knights' William Carrier (28) is stopped by Edmonton Oilers goalie Cam Talbot (33) as Oscar Klefbom (77) defends during first period NHL action in Edmonton, Alta., on Sunday November 18, 2018. (Jason Franson/CP)

EDMONTON — Cam Talbot brought precisely the right attitude into this, the season of his reclamation.

He was a goalie with a career .919 save percentage who had fashioned a .908 last season. On a team that needed a lot of elements to correct themselves in order to find success this season, the resurrection of the 2017-18 Cam Talbot was primary.

We asked Talbot, as training camp closed, if his game would revert to the mean this season?

“I expect myself to be above the mean,” Talbot declared. “I’m holding myself to a higher standard. I want to outperform my career numbers this year. That’s my goal.”

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Alas, there have been a lot of goals.

“Well, he gave up six tonight,” deadpanned head coach Todd McLellan. “Any time your goaltender gives up six, I’m sure that he, we, the group is looking for another save.”

Another save or four, truth be told.

Talbot surrendered three in four Vegas shots early in the second period Sunday, as the Golden Knights turned a 2-1 deficit into a 4-2 advantage. Then, two more in the opening 3:03 of the third period, just in case there might be a comeback in the offing.

The Golden Knights eventually prevailed by a 6-3 score, at which point Talbot surrenders one more thing:

His label as the No. 1 goaltender for the Edmonton Oilers.

Step right up, Mikko Koskinen. The job is yours as long as you can hold it.

“Started off feeling pretty good, then they got a couple of quick ones in the second there,” Talbot said of his evening. “I just couldn’t find the big save to keep it close when we needed it.”

The Oilers have now lost six of their past seven games, and after looking forward to a five-game stretch against Pacific Division opponents that was supposed to serve as a launching pad, Edmonton is 0-2 in the division and is officially a team adrift.

As Talbot loses his starting gig, everyone’s job is at stake in Edmonton this morning. From the general manager, whose trade record is simply not good enough, to the head coach who has had four years with this group and is still patching systemic holes on a number of fronts.

To a goalie like Talbot, who doesn’t let in soft goals as much as he simply doesn’t stop enough Grade A chances to give his team some leeway to make even the smallest mistake.

“That’s fair,” Talbot said. “They made good shots, some good plays. But it wasn’t until the third period when it was already out of hand that I started making the big saves on the breakaways and the two-on-ones. Those are the ones I need to come up with earlier in the game.”

Talbot’s numbers — a 3.31 goals-against average and an .888 save percentage that is 20 points below last season’s total and 30 points below his career average of 14 months ago— are atrocious.

His overall game is well below average, and on a team that was counting on a rejuvenated Talbot to forge a playoff run, this is more than just a flesh wound.

Carey Price recently said his troubles were “all upstairs.” Talbot was asked if he would admit to the same thing.

“I’m trying not to let it get to me,” Talbot said. “I’m just trying to make that next save. I did that down the stretch when the game was a little bit too far out of reach.”

In weekend back-to-back games that were billed as a contest for the No. 1 job heading into a three-game California swing, Koskinen received the first start, a high profile, Hockey Night in Canada Saturday game in Calgary. Talbot waited his turn, and failed the test.

The team in front of him was also well below grade, but Talbot didn’t steal any goals from Vegas the way Flames goalie David Rittich had on Saturday, stopping three early breakaways.

Of course, Talbot isn’t alone. It’s been a brutal year for No. 1 goalies, as Braden Holtby, Mike Smith, Matt Murray, Carey Price, Tuukka Rask and Jake Allen will attest. But Talbot is an unrestricted free agent after this season, making this the most expensive two months of his career.

With a 2.60 goals-against average and a .917 save percentage, Koskinen will almost certainly start Tuesday night in San Jose, kicking off a road trip that Edmonton must use to save their season.

If the trip goes the Oilers way, Talbot may not play a minute.

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