The New York Rangers hadn’t won at the Bell Centre in four years. They hadn’t shut out the Canadiens in their own building since 1967. If those two droughts were to be doused Saturday night in Montreal, it would be on the back of Henrik Lundqvist.
Instead of Hank, it was rookie Cam Talbot who stared history in the eye and refused to blink. Talbot kicked out all 22 shots he faced Saturday night to lead the Rangers to 1-0 victory over the Canadiens, their first win in Montreal since March 2009. And if we’re diving into history, consider this: the last Rangers goalie to blank the Canadiens on the road was Ed Giacomin, whose number has hung in the MSG rafters for 24 years.
The fact that Talbot can be mentioned in the same breath as Giacomin is, as the rookie netminder put it last night, “pretty surreal.” Two months ago, Talbot was still plugging away down in Hartford, an AHLer holding out hope that the NHL would come calling.
His faith was rewarded in late October, when the Rangers called him up to the big club in the wake of Martin Biron’s retirement. So far, Talbot’s play has exemplified the Circle of Life: one goalie’s passing giving birth to another’s emergence. In five NHL games, Talbot owns a 4-1 record, a .943 SV% and a 1.58 GAA.
It’s not just what he’s done though. It’s how he’s done it. Since his first NHL start, October 24 in Philadelphia, Talbot has demonstrated this equanimity between the pipes, this pervading sense of poise that goes well beyond his years. After every game he plays, at least one teammate seems to make mention of the 26-year-old rookie’s calming influence in net.
We’ve heard it from Dan Girardi. We’ve heard it from Marc Staal. Saturday night, we heard it from Brad Richards. And those are three guys that have worn the “A” for the Rangers, a testament to their NHL service, yes, but also to their own self-possession on the ice. To hear players of their ilk speak so highly of the way a teammate projects himself is to hear a senator praise a young politician for his savvy. It means something.
If you watch the highlights of Saturday night’s win over the Canadiens, you won’t see Talbot making any acrobatic saves. Part of that is due to the way the Rangers contained the Canadiens’ fleet-footed forwards. The rest owes to the way Talbot minds the net.
At 6’3, he stands impressively tall in goal. And he takes advantage of his height by employing a relaxed, blocking-oriented stance that enables him to make a high number of saves simply by virtue of his size. When you’re as big as Talbot is, the puck tends to find you. This isn’t to say he’s merely a body, a box-lacrosse type of goalie that hunkers down in net and hopes that shots hit him. No, Talbot’s size is complemented by NHL-level athleticism, a trait that shines through his lateral movement. The lack of pad-stacking and split-legged saves in Talbot’s game is due to his ability to move quickly and fluidly from one post to the other.
His teammates have sensed this. Instead of gripping their sticks with the backup in net, they play as loosely as they would with Lundqvist behind them, which might be the most valuable piece to Talbot’s performance so far. If the Rangers can play the way they want to play with Talbot between the pipes, instead of changing their game plan to account for a downgrade in net, then the team has found a goalie worth keeping.
Regardless of the way he evolves though, Talbot has already done the Rangers a huge service. By backstopping the team to a win Saturday night, he reminded everyone in that dressing room that, yes, it is still possible to win in Montreal.