Manning the Fort
Over a month ago, I wrote about New York Ranger franchise goaltender Henrik Lundqvist’s injury and how backup goalie Cam Talbot would be able to keep the Rangers afloat in his absence. Through those three weeks Talbot did just that, and probably played better than many expected. Talbot and rookie net minder MacKenzie Skapski have gone above and beyond to have the Rangers not only in first place in the Metro, but in the President’s Trophy race, and with Lundqvist finally cleared for practice, their performances should be recognized.
Cam Talbot has been absolutely spectacular for the Rangers. His numbers have now reached a point where they can combat Lundqvist’s this season. In 29 games played, Talbot has posted a 16-6-4 record with a .926 save percentage, fourth in the NHL, a 2.19 goals against average, seventh in the NHL, along with five shutouts, also seventh in the NHL. And while there is no doubt that when healthy enough, Lundqvist (25-11-3, .922 save percentage and 2.25 GAA) will be the starter, Talbot’s body of work cannot be overlooked.
February was a fairly easy month for the Rangers when Lundqvist went down in terms of team opposition. The three games that stuck out as difficult were the Nashville Predators on Feb. 7, which they lost 3-2, the Islanders game on Feb. 16, which they won 6-5, and the Vancouver Canucks game on Feb. 19, which they lost 5-4 in a shootout. Posting a 1-1-1 record against three of the toughest teams in the NHL while he was getting acclimated to being a starting goalie was considered fantastic for Talbot, and the only other games the Rangers dropped in that month was the Dallas Stars on Feb. 8 3-2 in a shootout and 4-2 to the Philadelphia Flyers on Feb. 28. The other eight games played that month were victories for the Rangers, including a 3-1 victory over the Buffalo Sabres on Feb. 20 by Skapski.
Skapski also can’t be overlooked as a result of the Rangers’ good fortune. He was able to relieve Talbot on a back to back by playing the Sabres and putting the Rangers in a position to win. He was also responsible for the Rangers latest victory over the Sabres on March 14, earning his first shutout of his NHL career, 2-0, while giving Talbot a much needed game off.
March is where the schedule got difficult for the Rangers and they believed Lundqvist would be back and healthy by then but he wasn’t, so Talbot still had the starting job. Where many thought the Rangers may falter they did the exact opposite; in a five game stretch where the Rangers played the Predators, the Detroit Red Wings, the Chicago Blackhawks, Islanders and Washington Capitals, they only dropped one point to the Red Wings in an overtime loss. All five of these teams are playoff teams at the present moment and Talbot didn’t play like a backup during those games, but one of the better starters in the NHL.
While the Rangers offense has been very solid all season and the defense has been spectacular, Talbot and Skapski have been the main reason the Rangers are where they are at the present moment. To lose a player like Lundqvist could spell the beginning of the end for many teams, but New York found a way to get through it and flourish with Talbot, their backup. Lundqvist still has a week or so before he is game ready, maybe more, but with the way Talbot and Skapski are playing he can take all the time he needs, which is extremely encouraging for the Rangers come playoff time.