On the one hand, Cam Talbot getting more starts for the New York Rangers is one of the best stories of the NHL season: an undrafted free agent from the University of Alabama-Huntsville signs in 2010, ascends the Rangers’ goaltending ranks, beats out Marty Biron for the backup job and then goes 6-1-0 in his eight appearances this season.
On the other hand, Talbot starting means Henrik Lundqvist isn’t.
Well, not yet. Talbot will get his second straight start for the Rangers as they host the Winnipeg Jets, after his 35-save performance in a victory over John Tortorella and the Vancouver Canucks. And while it might seem logical that coach Alain Vigneault would honor the goalie that helped him trounce his old team with another start, there’s a bigger issue at play here:
The Rangers have been a better team with Lundqvist on the bench.
Their defense has been tighter: Talbot has faced 0.447 shots per minute during this eight games, while Lundqvist has faced 0.503 shots per minute in his 20 appearances.
Said Talbot, when asked if the Rangers play tighter defense in front of a more inexperienced goalie:
“I don’t know. They came out and scored five goals,” Talbot laughed. “But maybe. Whenever a first-year goalie comes in, I think you have to have that in the back of your mind, maybe. I don’t know if they do or not. Nobody’s really said that, but they do seem to play pretty sound in front of me. They’ve been doing that for seven games now, and I can’t ask for anything more.”
The offense has been better, too: 2.377 goals per game with Talbot in goal, compared to 2.157 goals per game for Lundqvist.
Vigneault tried to shoot down any “goalie controversy” talk by declaring Lundqvist was the team’s No. 1 goalie, which obviously carries a lot of weight considering how steadfastly he stood by that declaration in Vancouver. Yup …
The question Lundqvist can’t avoid should be the one about the NHL’s shrinking equipment sizes coinciding with him having his worst save percentage in five years (.917), but since that’s a complicated issue we’ll just focus on his contract status instead.
Lundqvist swears that playing up to the standards of the long-term, max extension he’s seeking with the Rangers hasn’t affected his play, and that he hasn’t thought about the contract since the preseason.
As he told Andrew Gross: "I’m not satisfied with being OK...I want to be great and if I’m not, I’m not satisfied."
Not should he be, which is why AV is once again using an upstart backup to push his engrained incumbent starter. The only difference being that Roberto Luongo was signed through the next century, and benching Henrik Lundqvist is a more delicate political decision.