Archive for November, 2013

Talbot Shining in First NHL Opportunity

November 18, 2013

I had never heard of Cam Talbot when he appeared on the Wolf Pack roster in late March of 2010, having been signed by the Rangers as an undrafted free agent out of the University of Alabama-Huntsville.  It’s pretty unusual that a guy would get an NHL free agent contract and would be accompanied by so little fanfare–almost always I would have at least seen the name in The Hockey News or heard the guy talked about in some context, but had never come across any mention of Talbot.

Cam Talbot, in his first pro game April 7, 2010, fresh out of the University of Alabama-Huntsville

Cam Talbot, in his first pro game April 7, 2010, fresh out of the University of Alabama-Huntsville

And I knew that Alabama-Huntsville had a legit program and had produced a smattering of pro players.  Scott Munroe, who was a pretty good AHL goaltender, had also gone there, as had Jared Ross, who was a darned good AHL player, but it wasn’t exactly a factory.

Also, the one game Talbot got into with the Wolf Pack, when he first came to town after his Senior Year, was a blowout loss at home to Worcester in which he played most of the third period, and I have to say, he looked pretty much like a deer in the headlights to me.  I remember thinking, “Well, they must have seen something in this guy if they signed him, and maybe they play him in the ECHL, let him grow and see if he’s got anything going, but he sure looks like he’s got a long ways to go even to be able to play in the American League.”

So, once again, shows you what I know.

Talbot did have some developing to do, but right from his first pro start the next season, in which he shut out Providence in Providence, he proved that whatever the Ranger scouts saw in him was the real thing.

He pushed Chad Johnson hard for the number-one job in Hartford throughout the two seasons that the two were stablemates, and actually grabbed the reins from Johnson at the end of the 2011-12 season.  Talbot made his biggest statement, prior to his NHL action this fall, with his playoff run that year, which saw him shut out division champion Bridgeport twice in a three-game, first-round sweep, and put up postseason stats of a 2.10 goals-against average and a 93.9% save percentage.

Last year was Talbot’s first chance really to carry a number-one load, and although it was a bit of an up-and-down season and the Whale missed the playoffs, he got into 55 games, more than 20 games above his previous pro high, and put up a save percentage of 91.8, a career best.

Now, of course, Talbot has taken it to a whole new level.

Action Shot for Blog - 11-18-13

Marc Staal (right) congratulates Cam Talbot after Talbot’s 1-0 shutout in Montreal Saturday (Francois Lacasse/NHLI via Getty Images)

Since getting a shot at the Rangers’ backup job after the Rangers waived Martin Biron October 15, Talbot has gone 4-1-0 in five NHL starts, with a sparkling 1.58 GAA and 94.3% save percentage.  The crowning touch to a tremendous start to Talbot’s NHL career was his first major-league shutout, a 1-0 road win over Montreal on Saturday.  As if it weren’t enough for Talbot to put up a zero on the road in another Original Six city, the Rangers’ recent results in Montreal had been truly dismal, 0-7-1 in their previous eight trips.  And, even more amazingly, the Rangers had not managed a shutout in Montreal since 1967.  Wow!

“I’m sure it’s gonna be something that he’s going to remember for the rest of his life and career,” Ranger coach Alain Vigneault told the media after Saturday’s game. “Cam, since the first time we’ve called him up, he’s played five games for us right now and he’s played extremely well in every game. He’s given us a chance to win. Tonight, even though they didn’t get a lot in the third period, he had a couple big saves to make at one point. We turned the puck over and he had two huge saves. He did what we need from our goaltenders: He gave us a chance to win the game. He was real solid for us.”

Teams don’t necessarily expect their backup goaltenders to be steadying presences, but it seems clear that Talbot’s confident play has supplied exactly that for the Blueshirts.

“The goalie played really well, very calm,” Brad Richards said Saturday. “Canadian kid playing in Montreal and getting his first shutout. Great story. He’s been nothing but a huge help for us, calming us down when things were a little snaky with all the injuries and Henrik (Lundqvist) going down. He’s been nothing but a calming influence on and off the ice the way he conducts himself.”

It’s awfully early to attempt any definitive pronouncements, but there is no doubt that Talbot is making a big bid to lay permanent claim to the number-two role in Gotham behind Lundqvist.  If Talbot can continue to make as much out of the spot starts that define that job description, it will be a huge help to Lundqvist, and the organization as a whole, and will represent another excellent player-development success story for the Rangers.

Rangers Cooking, Pack Looking to Rebound

November 12, 2013

The first two weeks of the season, the Wolf Pack were finding a way to win nearly every game, and the parent New York Rangers were struggling mightily, especially at keeping the puck out their own net.

Now, a couple of weeks later, the situations have been almost entirely reversed.

With their 4-3 home win over the Florida Panthers Sunday night, the Rangers have triumphed in a season-high three straight games, and have won six of their last seven after a 3-7-0 start.  The Wolf Pack, by contrast, have now lost a season-high three straight in regulation, are 0-3-0-1 in their last four and 2-5-0-1 in eight games since coming out of the gate 5-0-0-1.

Perhaps even of greater concern is fact that, while every loss before this past weekend had been in a close game that could have gone either way, the two games against Providence this weekend were largely one-sided against the Wolf Pack.Action Shot for Blog - 11-12-13

Granted, the Pack did maintain some of their comeback personality in Friday’s 8-5 loss.  They were down 6-2 a little over halfway through the second period and could have easily packed it in then, but fought all the way back to 6-5 by the 1:14 mark of the third.  There was very little pushback, though, in Sunday’s game, which was a dreary 6-0 defeat, at least in terms of offense.  The Wolf Pack had plenty of battle in the physical department, right down to goaltender Scott Stajcer taking on his Providence counterpart, Malcolm Subban, in an exchange of punches in the third period, but the Hartford scoring chances were few and far between.

What’s gone wrong, you ask?  Well, from what I see and hear, it seems as though when those tenuous, one-goal tightrope-walks that had all been going the Wolf Pack’s way started to  go the other direction, the team as a whole lost a measure of confidence, and as individuals, started to try to do too much to get things turned back around.

Captain Aaron Johnson told me today, “It’s a lot of little things, where we’re just not making that confident play that we were making at the beginning of the season.  The work ethic has to go up, mentally we have to be better, and we’ll get out of this little funk.

“I think it’s more just getting back to our system and playing the way we did at the start of the season.  It’s not big things, it’s little things that are ending up in the back of our net.  In these situations, you just go back to the basics, work even harder, and eventually that tide will turn.”

The 14 goals that the Pack gave up in the two losses to Providence ballooned the team goals-against average to 3.64, better only among AHL teams than the 3.67 mark shared by Rochester and Bridgeport, and obviously that number has to come down if the Wolf Pack is to be a consistent contender.

That was exactly the problem the parent club was facing earlier in the season, but with all-world goaltender Henrik Lundqvist having seemingly found his groove, the Rangers have surrendered more than two goals in a game only once in their last ten games, and that was in their win over Florida Sunday.  Sparkplug forwards Carl Hagelin and Ryan Callahan, who missed the start of the season due to injuries, have been tremendous when they’ve been in the lineup, and in addition to the sharp games that Cam Talbot has given them to spell Lundqvist, the Blueshirts have gotten excellent mileage out of Chris Kreider since his return from the Wolf Pack to the NHL.

Not only has Kreider chipped in seven points in the last seven games, with two goals and five assists, he has also used his solid, 6-3, 226-pound frame to make a considerable impact in the physical department.  Larry Brooks of the New York Post made that the crux of an interesting column that is well worth a read.