There’s no bigger question mark surrounding the Calgary Flames than its goaltending.
So when Cam Talbot gave up a questionable goal 50 seconds into Sunday’s exhibition game in Winnipeg you can bet there was a segment of diehards watching online ready to tee off on the reclamation project.
Five nights earlier they had that outlet, as Talbot was the recipient of Bronx cheers shortly after allowing a pair of goals that didn’t sit well with Saddledome dwellers. Harsh.
His debut in Flames silks got worse that night as the man who relieved David Rittich midway through was beaten in overtime, saddling him with the goat horns as he allowed three goals on nine shots in a 3-2 loss to Vancouver.
Talbot and his .667 save percentage were the talk of the town the next day, which says all you need to know about how on edge Flames fans are when it comes to netminding.
Keep in mind, the organization has really only had two star goalies here in 39 years: Mike Vernon and Miikka Kiprusoff.
Since the latter left town for parts unknown in 2013, the rotating door of goaltenders has been one of the organization’s biggest problems.
Big Save Dave (a.k.a. Rittich) is as popular as any of them have been, albeit in a subservient role to Mike Smith.
The signing of Talbot in Smith’s stead this summer is a calculated risk given how miserable Talbot’s numbers, season and journey were last year. In the goalie graveyards of Edmonton and Philadelphia he tallied an 11-17-3 record with GAAs well over 3 and sub-.900 save percentages.
Yet, it was just three years ago Talbot had 42 wins, leading the Oilers to their only playoff spot in the last 13 years, earning him a fourth-place finish in Vezina voting.
The Flames wagered $2.75 million he can return to that form in what is widely expected to be a 50-50 split with Rittich.
"I think whoever is playing the best hockey is going to get the net," said the 6-foot-4, 200-pound veteran of a role that mirrors Bill Peters’ philosophy last year.
"I came into camp in as good a shape as I’ve ever been – it’s a fresh start and that’s my mindset. I want to play as many games as possible and I know David feels the same way. It will be a great relationship and a healthy competition."
It’s important to note Talbot rebounded from the early hiccup Sunday to post a solid outing the rest of the way. With Artyom Zagidulin on the bench, Peters decided to keep Talbot in the whole night to help him continue prepping for the season.
Two Jets goals midway through the third period came on fortuitous bounces Talbot couldn’t be blamed for in a 4-1 loss that included an empty netter. All told, Talbot stopped 25 of 28 shots, including a few biggies on Logan Shaw and Nikolaj Ehlers.
The 32-year-old had to feel good about the process, even if Flames fans looking solely at the score won’t.
It was a year ago in the silly season that Rittich struggled, prompting fans to push Flames management to try plucking a replacement like Curtis McElhinney from waivers.
Turns out Rittich was just fine, posting a 27-9-5 record with a 2.61 GAA.
It says here Talbot will fare just as well in his new environment, albeit with plenty of bumps along the way.
• Another solid outing from another former Oiler, Tobias Rieder, who may still be the frontrunner of the five remaining players with the team on a PTO. His speed created plenty of scoring chances (four shots) and was on display when killing penalties as well …
• Adam Ruzicka continued an impressive camp with Calgary’s lone goal on the power play. The first-year pro is certainly Stockton-bound, but may have shown the last week he’s capable of running with the big boys down the road. Consistency has always been the knock on the big lad …
• Best Flames player on the night may have been Austin Czarnik, who has two goals already and is building confidence throughout camp …
• Andrew Mangiapane made his first preseason appearance, taking a tripping penalty midway through when he got flat footed and whistled for the infraction …
• Oliver Kylington did well to prove once again he deserves a spot in the final defence pairing. Will be interesting to see if defenceman Andrew MacDonald, who has had a good camp as a PTO, survives past tomorrow’s cuts. He’s been good, but is there room for him? …
• Flames have the day off Monday but are expected to announce a large wave of cuts and demotions.