Cam Talbot

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Are the Edmonton Oilers finally coming around?

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Don’t look now, but the Edmonton Oilers appear to be mounting their assault.

Whether it’s all a tease seems to be seen, but they sure look like the team most expected them to be these days.

Over the past week, the Oilers have rattled off four straight wins, capped off by a 4-1 win on Saturday against the Montreal Canadiens.

It’s not something they’ve done this season. Hell, winning three straight wasn’t something they’d done this season until they beat the St. Louis Blues 3-2 on Thursday.

These past four games have one common denominator: Cam Talbot.

The man who played in 73 games last year, winning 42 of them, has begun to look like the goalie that posted a .919 save percentage last season and helped carry the Oilers to the playoffs.

Since Talbot returned from injury on Dec. 16, he’s played a part in each of the wins on the four-game heater.

And it hasn’t just been a supporting role.

Talbot has allowed two goals or fewer in three of those four starts (and only three in the other one). He’s won seven straight dating back to Nov. 22 and has allowed two or fewer in six of those contests.

It’s the type of goaltending Oilers fans came to expect after last season, and with the team not lighting the lamp on a regular basis every night, limiting the pucks behind him has been pivotal as Edmonton tries to climb back up the ladder in the Western Conference.

The return of Andrej Sekera has provided a boost to the Oilers back end, with the defenseman playing over 20 minutes on Saturday in his second game back after a seven-month layoff due to knee surgery.

They’ll certainly need Talbot, Sekera and a host of others to continue their recent form after the Christmas break.

And they’ll certainly be hoping that this isn’t serious either:

McDavid had a goal and an assist in the game, but lost a faceoff late in the game and then had to make up for it by blocking the ensuing shot.

We’ll have to wait and see what McDavid’s prognosis is, but Oilers fans will surely be trying to get a last-minute addition to Santa on their Christmas wish lists.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

The Buzzer: Seven overtimes, four shootouts and a shutout

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Players of the Night:

Ben Bishop, Dallas Stars: Bishop made 24 saves en route to his second shutout of the season. Bishop had lost his previous four starts, so it was a nice bounce-back from the veteran netminder. He can also say he backstopped Ken Hitchcock’s 800th win as a head coach now.

Joe Thornton, San Jose Sharks: Thornton scored twice in Thursday’s 5-4 overtime win against the Vancouver Canucks. His second goal was his 1,415th point of his NHL career, moving him into sole possession of 18th spot all-time, one point ahead of Doug Gilmour.

Dustin Brown, Los Angeles Kings: Talk about embracing the moment. Brown, playing in his 1,000th NHL game, scored the overtime winner for the Kings as they squeaked out a 2-1 win against the Colorado Avalanche.

Charlie McAvoy, Boston Bruins: It was the dude’s birthday, and much like Brown did, he took hold of the moment, scoring the shootout winner in a 2-1 win against the Winnipeg Jets.

Coach of the Night: 

Ken Hitchcock, Dallas Stars: These don’t make regular appearances in The Buzzer, but then again, coaches don’t often record their 800th career NHL win. In fact, only three have even done it and Hitchcock is now one of them. Can you guess the other two? The answer is below.

Highlights of the Night:

Thornton’s second of the night was a pretty nice clap bomb:

Jake Virtanen went coast-to-coast on this fine effort:

Cam Talbot nearly gave up a goal and then he gave us this save:

This dog dropped a puck. It was cute because dog:

Factoid of the Night:

Ken Hitchcock joined some pretty elite company on Thursday:

MISC:

Scores:

Bruins 2, Jets 1 (SO)

Devils 4, Rangers 3 (SO)

Ducks 5, Islanders 4 (OT)

Penguins 3, Blue Jackets 2 (SO)

Lightning 4, Senators 3 (SO)

Hurricanes 4, Predators 1

Stars 4, Blackhawks 0

Oilers 3, Blues 2

Sharks 5, Canucks 4 (

Kings 2, Avalanche 1 (OT)


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Oilers lose Cam Talbot, can’t catch a break

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Just when you thought the Edmonton Oilers might be getting the band back together…

Cam Talbot was placed on injured reserve on Thursday with an upper-body ailment that will keep him out for the next couple of weeks (and perhaps longer):

It comes at a time when the Oilers were starting to string a couple wins together, having won two straight and three of their past four. Connor McDavid had gotten over the flu, Zack Kassian finally scored and Talbot was starting a mini-revival in the crease.

And then someone angered the hockey gods.

Perhaps Talbot injured his back from him having to carry the Oilers all last season. Maybe this year, the load has just become too much to bear.

It’s a joke, of course, but Talbot has played a lot of hockey, with ‘a lot’ being a severe understatement.

The 30-year-old played 73 games last season, a whopping 89 percent of Edmonton’s schedule and held down a .919 save percentage to go along with his 42 wins.

And that load hasn’t lessened at all this season, with Talbot having played in 22 of Edmonton’s 25 games.

It wouldn’t be surprising at all if Edmonton’s over-exertion of Talbot is somewhat to blame, but what choice have they had?

They’ve needed to lean on Talbot because they’ve needed to win games. And backup Laurent Brossoit’s .881 save percentage and 0-3-1 record isn’t doing Talbot, or the basement-dwelling Oilers, any favors.

Now that load shifts to Brossoit, who will immediately need to get better if the Oilers are to overcome Auston Matthews (who has the sniffles) and the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday.

Perhaps the rest will do Talbot some good. He’s received very little.

Meanwhile, McDavid vs. Matthews offers a salivating matchup for all hockey fans, even if both teams are polar opposites at the moment.

The Leafs are 7-2-1 in their past 10 games and are tied for second in the Eastern Conference with 33 points. As mentioned above, the Oilers are second last in the West and losers of six of their past 10.

Perhaps Matthews will be slowed down a little by the cold he is nursing. He failed to record a shot in his last game (which nearly led to Canada declaring several days of mourning), the first time in his career he’s done so. He also hasn’t scored in five games.

McDavid knows that pain. He hasn’t found the back of the net in his past five games either, but has offered up five apples in that time.

Matthews and McDavid have met twice last season and both times Matthews’ Leafs came out on top.

It wouldn’t be surprising in the least if something gave tonight for one (or both) of the superstars. Neither starves for that long.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

How the Oilers became the NHL’s biggest disappointment

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At the start of the 2017-18 season the Edmonton Oilers were one of the top Stanley Cup favorites.

They were one game away from reaching the Western Conference Finals and they have the reigning league MVP and scoring champion (and arguably the game’s best player). All of that seemed to indicate a team that was on the verge of taking another major step and breaking through as one of the league’s elite teams. Their preseason Stanley Cup odds from Bovada were second best in the league to only the back-to-back champion Pittsburgh Penguins. The bandwagon was filling up.

Here we are not just a quarter of the way through the season and there is no debating that the Oilers have not only failed to reach those sky-high expectations, they are clearly the league’s biggest disappointment.

Entering play on Wednesday — and following an 8-3 drubbing at the hands of the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday night — the Oilers have the third worst points percentage in the league, ahead of only the Arizona Coyotes and Buffalo Sabres. Their minus-19 goal differential is fourth-worst. They have managed to win just four games in regulation with only two of them coming over the past month.

So, how did they get here? Let us try to figure it out.

It starts with the people upstairs

Three years ago the Oilers were given a gift from the hockey draft gods when they won the lottery and the right to select Connor McDavid. It was the fourth time in six years they won the top pick and this time were able to pick a player that would quickly become the best offensive player in the league. Since McDavid entered the league he has more than lived up to the hype with a 1.18 points per game average that is tops among all players (minimum 100 games played) during that stretch.

As great as McDavid has been, he can not do it all on his own. This is not the NBA where one or two great players can carry a team deep into the playoffs (or even into the playoffs at all). There has to be a supporting cast around them, and the Oilers have quickly sabotaged their chances to do that through some brutal roster and asset management.

Let’s just examine some of the moves made by Peter Chiarelli since taking over as the Oilers’ general manager.

His first move was to trade two top-33 picks (No. 16 overall and No. 33 overall) to the New York Islanders for defenseman Griffin Reinhart. The Islanders used that pick to select Matthew Barzal, currently one of the top rookies in the NHL this season. Reinhart played 30 forgettable games with the Oilers before moving on to the expansion Vegas Golden Knights this season.

[On fire vs. fireable: Blues humiliate Oilers]

Then came the one-for-one trades: Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson, and then Jordan Eberle for Ryan Strome.

Both trades have played a significant role in reducing the team’s scoring depth.

Since being traded Hall’s 26 goals and 74 points would make him the third most productive player on the Oilers. His point total this season alone would make him the team’s second-leading scorer behind McDavid. Eberle’s 14 points would make him the team’s fourth-leading scorer.

The return for the Oilers has not come close to matching that production. Larsson is a solid, if unspectacular defenseman, while Strome’s offense has been non-existent. Even at his best Strome was never quite on par with what Eberle has shown to be capable of on a regular basis. Those trades have devastated the Oilers’ scoring depth and are now left with a team that is 27th in the league in goals scored and seems to be unable to generate any offense when McDavid is not on the ice.

In three years Chiarelli has traded two picks in the top-33 of a draft, a top-line forward and gave Kris Russell, a borderline second-to third-pairing defenseman to help improve the defense and the team is still desperate for defensive help.

That is a lot of bad roster management, and it is wasting what might be some of McDavid’s best years in the league.

Cam Talbot can’t get a break

Literally, he can not get a night off.

The Oilers’ goals against numbers improved dramatically a season ago and a lot of credit for that improvement was directed toward the additions of Larsson and Russel. The reality is that a lot of it had to do with Talbot helping to solidify the goaltending position.

His save percentage wasn’t anything spectacular and at .917 was fairly close to the league average. But Talbot played 72 games and if you can get average to slightly above league average goaltending for 72 games that is going to be a positive value to your team, especially with where the Oilers were coming from in recent seasons. His performance, combined with his durability to play that many games, probably shaved 15 goals off the Oilers’ goals against totals.

Talbot has not been as strong so far this season, and given that he has already played a league-high 19 games you have to wonder if maybe that workload is starting to catch up with him.

Since the start of the 2016-17 season Talbot has played in 93 regular season games. Only three other goalies have played in more than 80 and only one (Frederik Andersen, 85) has played in more than 83. He has faced 2,688 shots.

That does not include the 13 playoff games and 437 shots he faced in the playoffs. That is a ton of work for a goalie over a season-and-a-quarter.

The Oilers have no adequate backup that can give him any sort of a break.

Lucky or unlucky?

There does seem to be an element of some bad luck to the Oilers’ struggles this season. Their possession and shot attempt numbers are among the best in the league, and they do seem to be struggling with some poor percentages on the offensive end.

When it comes to the save percentage numbers and Talbot’s struggles it is worth wondering if that extensive workload over the past two seasons has started to wear him down.

It is also worth wondering if they had a lot of players play over their heads a season ago, specifically when it came to players like Patrick Maroon and Mark Letestu. That duo combined for 43 goals a season ago. They have combined for 8 so far this season. That puts them on pace for about 15 over 82 games. Combine that with the offense they are losing going from Eberle to Strome, as well as the absence of Hall and that is a big chunk of offense going away and helps explain how a team with Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkings all averaging close to a point-per-game is 26th in the league in goals scored.

You might be reading all of this and thinking to yourself, relax, Gretz, it’s only Thanksgiving. Still a lot of hockey left to be played. Sure, there is a lot of hockey remaining in the season. The problem for teams like the Oilers is NHL history tells us the standings do not tend to change much once the calendar rolls over to December. Currently the Oilers are already seven points out of a wild card spot in the Western Conference and eight points out of one of the three playoff spots in the Pacific Division.

Points are difficult to make up as the season goes on and teams that are already this far out do not tend to make them up.

Perhaps the Stanley Cup for this Oilers team was a little too premature, mainly because they have managed to squander any chance of building a competitive team around the best player in the world through some terrible roster management.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

New Oilers goalie Nilsson ready ‘to challenge for the No. 1 job’

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Back in July, Edmonton made an intriguing, under-the-radar move by acquiring the rights to KHL goalie Anders Nilsson.

The deal didn’t garner much attention, possibly because the Oilers had already made a bigger splash in goal — trading for ex-Rangers backup Cam Talbot at the draft — and, of course, they still had Ben Scrivens in the mix.

But the attention could soon be on Nilsson.

“My mindset is to challenge for the No. 1 job,” the Swedish stopper told the Edmonton Journal. “That’s why I signed the one-year contract and it’s up to me to perform.”

Nilsson, 25, is an interesting entity.

Picked 62nd overall by the Isles in 2009, he appeared in 23 games for New York over three seasons before signing with KHL team AK Bars Kazan last summer. A few months later, the Isles traded Nilsson’s rights — he was an RFA upon leaving for Russia — to Chicago, as part of the Nick Leddy deal.

In Russia, Nilsson boosted his stock by going 20-9-8 with a 1.71 GAA and .936 save percentage. He also played for Team Sweden at the 2015 Worlds, splitting time with Jhonas Enroth.

The 6-foot-5, 220-pounder signed with Edmonton almost immediately upon being acquired, seemingly determined to resurrect his NHL career. With the Oilers, he’s projected to battle Scrivens for the No. 2 gig behind Talbot — who, tentatively, is penciled in as the No. 1 — but if the last few years in Edmonton have shown anything, it’s that minutes in net are constantly up for grabs.