‘Rangers Inside And Out’
By Sean Hartnett
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Following the Rangers’ morning skate in Washington, head coach Alain Vigneault confirmed that red-hot goaltender Cam Talbot will start for a third straight game on Friday night.
This means that highly-paid netminder Henrik Lundqvist will continue to wait his turn. Lundqvist hasn’t played since December 20, when he gave up four goals to the Islanders on 19 shots.
Talbot will be looking to earn a third consecutive win when the Blueshirts battle the Washington Capitals tonight at the Verizon Center.
The 26-year-old rookie has posted sterling statistics through his first 10 NHL starts and 12 games played. Talbot has been a very difficult goalie to crack since his October 20 recall from Hartford of the AHL. His superb play has earned him the nickname “Goalbuster.”
Talbot heads into Friday’s meeting with the Caps carrying an 8-2-0 record with a microscopic 1.60 goals-against average. His GAA ranks only second to Josh Harding of the Minnesota Wild. Talbot’s save percentage of .938 is only bettered by Los Angeles Kings netminder Ben Scrivens and Harding.
Some writers and debate panelists have already described the situation as a “goalie controversy.” Let’s make it clear though — there’s no such thing as a goalie controversy when Lundqvist recently received a seven-year, $59.5 million extension. The weight of this franchise will continue to be placed on the shoulders of Lundqvist.
‘KING HENRIK’ HASN’T BEEN UNCROWNED BY ROOKIE TALBOT
It makes sense that Vigneault will continue to ride Talbot given his exceptional play. What coach wouldn’t ride Talbot in this scenario? Lundqvist has given up three goals or greater in seven consecutive games, while Talbot is playing at an unworldly level.
Barring a severe injury, we all know that Lundqvist will be starting between the pipes when the playoffs begin. Talbot’s incredible and unforeseen underdog story has been one of the most exciting stories of the young NHL season.
Make no mistake, Talbot is an inspirational figure. He was regarded as a goalie who infused a belief in teammates at the University of Alabama-Hunstville and with the minor-league Connecticut Whale/Hartford Wolf Pack. Talbot is doing the same thing now for the Rangers.
My head tells me that both Talbot and Lundqvist’s trends will even out as the season goes on. Talbot could very well go on to become an above-average goalie in this league for the long-term. Yet, it took him a considerably long minor-league journey to crack the Rangers’ roster.
Lundqvist has proven over nine years that he’s unquestionably an elite-level netminder. Since stealing Kevin Weekes’ job in 2005, Lundqvist has been nothing short of Vezina-level every year in this league.
He’s hit the wall in 2013, yet Lundqvist is one of the most competitive and prideful goalies in the NHL. “King Henrik” will prove to all doubters that he’s worth every penny of his massive seven-year, $59.5 million extension.
STAAL TO TAKE PART IN FULL TEAM SKATE, CALLAHAN BEGINS SKATING
Saturday marks a big milestone in Marc Staal’s recovery from a concussion. Staal will take part in the full team skate.
The experienced defenseman hasn’t played for the Rangers since suffering a concussion against the Devils on December 7 after receiving a high hit from Devils winger Reid Boucher. While leaving the ice, Staal immediately spiked his helmet in anger and did not return to the bench.
When at full health, the 26-year-old has been one of the foremost shutdown defensemen in the NHL. It appears his return to game action will come sooner rather than later. It’s possible that he could make his return to the lineup on Sunday in Tampa.
Rangers captain Ryan Callahan began skating following the conclusion of the Rangers’ practice. Photos came flooding in of “Captain Cally” skating around the Verizon Center ice in sweatpants, wearing a brace on his left knee.
Callahan is still far away from returning to game action. He suffered a sprained knee against the Nashville Predators on December 10. The initial determination was that Callahan would miss four-to-six weeks.
Throughout his career, Callahan has made a habit of returning before expected timetables. In this case, Callahan probably won’t be back until mid-January. As fearless as “Captain Cally” is, it’s imperative for both the Rangers and Team USA that Callahan eases himself back into the Rangers’ lineup.
Callahan has pushed through an injury-plagued 2013. He is approaching unrestricted free agency. As attractive as his leadership and all-action style is to many teams, Callahan must prove his durability should he become an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2014.
Should Callahan shake off injury concerns, he’ll get the big bucks from the Rangers or another team if he hits the free-agent market.
Follow Sean on Twitter @HartnettHockey.
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