EDMONTON — On so many levels, Cam Talbot is one of two things.
Cause? Or effect?
Last year’s goalie? Or this year’s goalie?
A guy who bailed his team out continually a season ago? Or, the No. 1 goalie on a club that has allowed a goal on the first shot of the game an outrageous 14 times so far this season.
So, which goalie is Cam Talbot? Last year’s guy? Or this year’s guy?
“I have a pretty good feeling,” Talbot declared on Wednesday, as the Oilers play out the string on yet another futile campaign. “If you compare this season to my first four years, this is the outlier. It wasn’t just last year (that he was solid). I had three good years before that.
“I don’t see myself as two different goaltenders. I see myself as one guy.”
Dissect Talbot’s disappointing campaign — his 3.05 goals-against average his .907 save percentage — and you’ll find that the “first shot of the game” scenario paints the picture on his entire season.
If he’d have stopped more of them, the team would have more confidence, and likely would have won more games. But many of those goals came on scoring chances of such a high pedigree that no goalie could stop them — backdoor tap-ins, three-on-ones, 12-footers blasted in off the post — leaving a dent in Talbot’s psyche the size of Zdeno Chara.
“Sometimes it’s technical, and sometimes it’s mental. Sometimes it’s a confidence thing,” he admitted of the sheer numbers of pucks that have passed him by this season.
As a goalie, he can’t say that playing behind a team that opens most games with a Grade A scoring chance against in the first two minutes is bad for business. But we’ll say that. As well as this, in his defence: Talbot hasn’t been good enough this season, but there isn’t a goalie in the history of hockey who could have saved this season for these failing Oilers.
“He was tremendous last year. He was good this year,” said head coach Todd McLellan. “There’s a difference between being good and tremendous. We’ve got to get him back to being tremendous.”
Edmonton scored first less than 44 per cent of the time this season, just another Michelin on the tire fire this season has been in Edmonton. Again, another two-part question: do you blame offence for not scoring, or defence/goalies for letting shots in early?
This much we do know, however. As the first shots in games continued to turn the red light on, or more often the second or third, you could simply see the Oilers bench sinking deeper and deeper behind the boards.
“(The goalies) own that stat, but … I’m guessing there were four or five other players involved in a mistake that led to that shot,” McLellan said. “Yes, you’d like to have your goaltender bail you out … but this year that got away on us. That’s an area we have to improve on — our starts. Our ability to impose our game on another team has to get better, and that’s in every position.”
Talbot has returned to form over his last 20 games, posting a .918 save percentage over that stretch. Team Canada GM Sean Burke has approached Talbot about going to Denmark for the upcoming world championship, a decision the father of young twins is still deliberating on.
Despite all the excuses that are available to a goalie playing behind this Oilers team, Talbot swallows his share of the blame. The Oilers ranked 31st in save percentage for much of the season, and a large part of that is on him.
“The average is probably .917, .916 area,” he said of where a goalie needs to be to have success. “I’m not where I want to be — no one knows that more than myself. It wears on you mentally. That’s why I’m taking my time to make the decision (on the worlds) here.”
Truly, a conversation with Talbot leaves you wondering.
Is he the goalie who took the Oilers through two stellar rounds, playing more than any goalie in the NHL last season? Or is he just another flash in the pan?
“That question is an organizational question,” said McLellan. “I would ask that question of the coaching staff. The power play/penalty kill. The forwards. The D-men. That question can paint everybody.
“I believe we have Cam Talbot somewhere in between the two seasons, and we do everyone else who is painted by that question.”