Nostradamus himself couldn't have predicted that one.
But, for the New York Rangers, a team in desperate need of points, Alain Vigneault has given the nod to the twenty-six-year-old rookie Talbot for the third game in a row, even after a three day Christmas vacation. Given Henrik Lundqvist's recent mastery of Ovechkin and the Caps (1-1 with a shutout this year, and no one can forget the last two postseasons), and the fact that he's had a week to get himself right since his last start, the move comes as a bit of a surprise.
The decision to start Talbot signals that Vigneault has come to the conclusion that he, and the team, can't wait around for Lundqvist to find his game forever. In the coaches own words:
"Cam's played well, won his last two games and I thought it just made sense to come back with him. I'm looking at this like we are trying to win some hockey games. We were good in our last two games, our goaltender was good, and I'm trying to do what is best for us to win tonight."
The Rangers enter the day at 18-18-2, good for 38 points and a tie with Philadelphia for the 3rd and final playoff spot in the Metropolitan Division. If they were in any division other than the anemic Metropolitan, they'd be no fewer than 9 points back of the 3rd spot, and essentially reduced to playing for a wildcard.
Put simply, the Rangers can't rely on the rest of the divisions mediocre-at-best play to keep them in it. In sports, it can get late awfully fast, and there's not time like the present for the Blueshirts to go on a run and separate themselves from the muddled middle of their woeful division.
It's not as if Vigneault hasn't given Lundqvist ample opportunity to find his game. Remember, the King started 8 in a row before Talbot got his chance last Sunday against Minnesota. An 8 game stretch that saw the Rangers win just twice–with the lone win in regulation coming against the AHL Buffalo Sabres.
To be clear, this in no way means Cam Talbot is now the Rangers starting goaltender. It simply means Vigneault wants to ride the hot hand as long as he remains en feugo. One goalie's stat line reads 8-2, .938, the others is 10-15, .906. The decision is as simple as that. Lundqvist will undoubtedly get another shot, likely sooner rather than later, and if this team is to make the playoffs–let alone win a series–they'll need him to play like the King of old at some point.
As for the Capitals, for all of Alex Ovechkin's heroics, they're only 4 points ahead of the Rangers, and thanking their lucky stars to be in a division where only the battered Penguins stand out. Washington, seemingly forever in search of their franchise goaltender, will start the aforementioned Philipp Grubauer for the 6th time in 9 games. Grubauer is 4-1-1 with a 2.20 GAA and .934 SV%, and picked up his first NHL win at the Garden on December 8th.
The book on Washington is simple: keep them and their young defenseman trapped in their own zone–thus limiting the time Ovechkin and Backstrom have the puck–and they'll fall. It's a strategy that hasn't been that difficult for opponents to execute: the Capitals have surrendered 35.1 shots per game–only the Maple Leafs have allowed more, and the Rangers just recently played one of their best games in weeks against the boys from north of the border.
If the Blueshirts forecheck shows the same gusto it did against Toronto, Grubauer figures to be busy, if the Rangers revert to the form they showed in a 4-1 loss the last time these two teams met, or if they blaze a trail to the penalty box and give the leagues best PP a multitude of chances, it could be a very long night for Talbot.
-Marc Staal and Ryan Callahan skated, Staal (concussion), could return as early as Sunday if all goes well in practice tomorrow.
-Callahan (sprained knee) skated in sweatpants and a knee brace, so his return figures to be a bit further off.
-Lundqvist on Talbot getting the start: "Cam's been playing really well. I want to be out there…but in the end it's about the team, and what is best for the team. I have to put myself aside. It's a tough balance because I'm really competitive and I want to play."
-The Caps will be without the oft-injured Brooks Laich tonight.
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