When you’re hot, you’re hot. That’s one way to describe Cam Talbot. The 27-year old undrafted goalie from Ontario made 38 saves to carry the Rangers past the Panthers 2-1 at MSG. He improved to 13-2-3 since taking over for Henrik Lundqvist, who remains out with a sprained neck vessel.
How good has he been? Counting tonight, Talbot has allowed three goals over the past four starts and six in the last six. He’s 5-0-1 with a 0.99 goals-against-average, .967 save percentage and one shutout. Overall, he’s won 13 of 18 starts posting a 2.20 GAA (40 GA in 1,091 minutes) with a .927 save percentage (505 saves on 545 shots faced) with two shutouts. Remarkably, the Rangers are 15-2-3 including MacKenzie Skapski’s two wins over the Sabres. How large has the play of the goalies been?
Goaltending is what won this one over a determined bunch of Panthers, who really deserved better. Sometimes, the play of a goalie is enough to win even when you’re badly outplayed. Florida played desperate hockey finishing with 98 shots attempted. Astonishingly, the Rangers blocked 36. The Panthers also had another 23 that missed the net which accounted for their 98.
It didn’t matter because Talbot was in a zone. Similar to what we’ve grown accustomed to from Lundqvist, he was stopping everything. Under siege in about as lopsided a second period as there’s been this season, he made 20 saves. The Panthers top line of Jaromir Jagr, Jonathan Huberdeau and Nick Bjugstad dominated every offensive shift keeping the Rangers pinned in for long stretches. Even at 43, Jagr remains scary as ever. He created and had great chances. One which was a rebound that he pushed wide with Ryan McDonagh nudging him to put the Panthers on a power play with 2:35 left in regulation.
Jagr was feisty throughout going back at Marc Staal after getting shoved into the net. Younger teammate Erik Gudbranson had quite a battle with Chris Kreider. The defenseman went after Kreider following a clean hit he delivered on Florida captain Willie Mitchell. But that wasn’t what drew his ire. In the third, Kreider caught Gudbranson with a late hit tripping the defenseman up. Somehow, neither ref or linesman saw anything. This is what you get in today’s NHL. Where every hold and hook is called while more dangerous infractions are missed. Gudbranson wanted Kreider but it never materialized.
The Rangers were able to take advantage of their chances. In particular, the fourth line with the addition of James Sheppard flourished accounting for both goals. Back in for Tanner Glass after missing the previous three, Sheppard paid immediate dividends when after winning a puck battle behind the net, he parked in front of Aaron Ekblad and scored his first as a Ranger on a double deflection from Dominic Moore and Matt Hunwick with 2:16 left in the first period.
After outshooting the Panthers 12-6, the Rangers fell asleep in a awful second. Completely outplayed, they ceded control. Florida used its aggressive forecheck and speed to effect forcing Alain Vigneault to make some switches for the third. The only reason his team still led by one was Talbot. His steadiness along with the Rangers willingness to block shots kept them in front. That included a Kreider diving effort to get in the path of a point shot with his knees jumping up. He was very involved for a third straight game.
Making his fifth consecutive start, Dan Ellis was good for the Cats. Even though he wasn’t as busy as Talbot, Ellis still made 32 saves to give his team a chance. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to stop a Hunwick point shot that changed direction in front with Jesper Fast screening giving the Rangers a 2-0 lead with 11:23 remaining. It was another strong shift from the fourth line with Fast outhustling a Panther to a loose puck and getting it to Moore who found an open Hunwick for the shot. Originally, it was given to Fast but a scoring change rewarded Hunwick with his first as a Ranger. A nice reward for the extra defenseman who’s played well so far in place of Kevin Klein. He had a goal and assist and got second star.
But the two-goal lead wasn’t safe. Less than two minutes later off a faceoff win from Bjugstad, Brandon Pirri was able to beat Talbot with a quick wrister low for his 15th cutting it to 2-1 with 9:49 left.
The Panthers pressed the action furiously. They came in waves. Dissatisfied with his team’s performance, Vigneault mixed up his lines moving J.T. Miller up with Derick Brassard and Mats Zuccarello. He also tried Rick Nash back with Kreider and Derek Stepan, who was held off the score sheet for a 10th straight game. Complicating matters, Martin St. Louis was injured on a late shift falling down behind the Florida net. He limped off. Many are concerned about it but Vigneault gave a promising update afterwards.
Of course, we won’t know the full extent. Who knows if he’ll play Wednesday when the Blackhawks visit. There are some interesting games coming up. Following a 3/21 visit to Carolina, the Ducks come in 3/22 and Kings visit on my Dad’s birthday 3/24. It should be fun.
The win gives the Rangers a Conference best 95 points. They’re now five clear of the Islanders and seven up on the Penguins. More and more, it’s looking like they’ll win the Metro Division and compete for the President’s Trophy. They’re two up on Nashville, Anaheim, St. Louis and Montreal for the most points. What does it all mean? Not too much. So much is riding on what happens the next three months. Or as Billy Joel sang:
BONY 3 Stars:
3rd Star-Matt Hunwick, NYR (game-winner-1st of season, assist, +2 in 16 shifts-13:43)
2nd Star-Dominic Moore, NYR (2 assists, 8-and-9 on faceoffs, +1 in 13;13)
1st Star-Cam Talbot, NYR (38 saves tying career high-13-2-3 2.20 GAA .927 save percentage 2 SHO since taking over)
Notes: Rangers only had 8 shots blocked and missed the net 10 times. They were out-attempted 98-52 and still prevailed. … Each team finished with nine giveaways. Playing against his brother Jimmy, Kevin Hayes struggled with four giveaways and lost all six faceoffs with just one shot. … Panthers won 36 of 62 draws (58 percent) led by Dave Bolland (12-and-4). Moore was the Rangers’ best going 8-and-9 while Miller was .500 (2-and-2).