It looks like Anders Nilsson will start for the 15th time in 18 games tonight when the Oilers host the Rangers at Rexall.
Which means that — for the 15th time in 18 games — Cam Talbot will be on the bench.
This time, thought, it’s fair to suggest Talbot’s benching will sting more than usual, as it comes against the same Rangers club he starred for a year ago.
Prior to Friday’s game, Rangers beat writer Andrew Gross caught up Talbot.
But there weren’t many good things to get caught up on.
The 28-year-old has struggled mightily this season, going 3-8-1 with a .889 save percentage and 3.17 GAA. He’s given up at least four goals in each of his last four starts — a far, far cry from last year, when he went 21-9-4 with a .926 and 2.21, finishing seventh in Vezina voting.
Part of the problem, it would seem, is that this has been a season of pressure. There were heightened expectations given what the Oilers paid to acquire Talbot (three picks at the ’15 draft) and the fact he came into this season as the club’s No. 1.
There was also the added pressure of being in a contract year. A UFA at season’s end, Talbot wasn’t just out to prove he was a legit NHL starter — he was playing for a new deal, too.
And now everything’s gone pear-shaped.
“It’s extremely frustrating when you know you’re going to be a free agent and you haven’t been able to perform as well as I know I can and, I think, these guys know I can,” Talbot explained. “It’s hard to describe. It’s not the way I wanted the season to go. I wanted to come in and make my mark.”
As for when Talbot might get to make his mark?
The Oilers have won five straight with Nilsson in goal, and find themselves just three points out of a playoff spot.
For a team that hasn’t tasted the postseason in nearly 10 years, wins are at a premium. Which means it’s more likely the club will opt ride Nilsson’s hot hand for as long as possible, rather than give Talbot a chance to break out of his funk.