EDMONTON — Cam Talbot was sitting inside the Edmonton Oilers dressing room, all by himself. His gloves and mask were off, and he sat there wondering why he wasn’t gathering up his gear and getting back to the bench for the rest of the third period.
“It was more of a decompression than anything,” he said.
A decompression that came after he’d let off steam at his head coach, Ken Hitchcock, as he skated by the Oilers bench when he was pulled.
“I usually take a few minutes to cool off. I don’t usually stay in the room,” he said. “It was a highly emotional game, I was frustrated. I was in the wrong to stay in the room and I told the guys that after the game. They all had my back.
“I apologized to the guys.”
This is what it’s like to be Talbot this season in Edmonton. When you play well, the way he did for two periods against Chicago on Tuesday, your team folds up in front of you. When three goals go past in 2:01, the coach finds an absolutely legit reason to challenge the third one for goaltending interference.
When the decision comes back from Toronto that it’s a good goal, the coach decides, “If it’s not the fault of the guy with his foot planted between your legs, then it must be your fault,” and he pulls you.
On your way off the ice you have some choice words for said coach. Then you can’t get your legs to pull your butt out of your dressing room stall, as the Blackhawks pump another couple past Mikko Koskinen in relief.
“It’s always frustrating when you get pulled,” Talbot said. “Whether it’s on you, or it’s a combination of things — you never want to leave the net. I’d rather battle it out with my teammates than come out. If I’m playing poorly, that’s a different story. Then, yeah, get me out of the net. But for the most part, I believe in myself. I want to be out there with the guys and I want to battle it out.”
So he was pissed at Hitchcock.
“Good. I hope he is,” Hitchcock said. “I don’t really care about that stuff. What I care about is, that we play for the goalie. And we did not play for the goalie.”
Was the coach mad about playing out the final 14 minutes of the game without a backup goalie on the bench?
“Not one bit,” Hitchcock said. “I’d be very disappointed if I were him too. He did everything he could to try to help us win the hockey game, and we gave up, like, 15 10-bellers. He’s starting (Thursday in Minnesota) and it’s our turn to play for him.”
In just another move that makes you look at this Oilers organization and raise an eyebrow, Talbot will get the third of four starts after the All-Star break. A break that was preceded, of course, with the announcement that the team had signed Koskinen to a three-year, US $13.5-million deal.
However, after a 6-2 loss that featured five third-period goals-against — the worst home-ice third period in 25 years for Edmonton — Hitchcock didn’t even go on the ice with his team. Instead, assistant Glen Gulutzan ran Wednesday morning’s practice, while Hitchcock watched from above with interim GM Keith Gretzky and V.P. of Player Development Scott Howson.
“My voice was (heard) this morning,” Hitchcock said. “It was good that they got a different voice at practice. I spoke up this morning in the meeting.”
Hitchcock sat beside Talbot as he spoke to the Oilers about playing for their goalie. The evening before, Darnell Nurse had summed up the loss like this:
“We hung Talbs out to dry. It wasn’t good enough. Then Kosk came in and we hung him out to dry too. Not good enough. We go out there for the third and feel ready to go. Say all the right stuff. [Expletive]. It’s simple. We’ve got to be better.”
Talbot, meanwhile, is sporting an .892 save percentage in his unrestricted-free-agent season. His performance, and the team’s in front of him, has cost Talbot millions.
“There have been a few more bad stretches this year than I have had, probably, in my career,” he said. “I’m just trying to go out there and make the saves I should make, and come to the rink and be a professional.
“In situations like this, first and foremost you have to be a good teammate and a good person. That’s what I’m trying to do.”
We never would have thought this even two months ago. But with Koskinen signed, and Talbot looking for a short deal and a chance to prove he can be a No. 1, would he sign with the Oilers again over the summer?
“I love this organization and this city. We’ve made it our home,” he said. “If there is an opportunity, we’ll definitely explore that.”