It is almost the midway point of the 2013-14 NHL season, and the New York Rangers are currently on the outside looking in when it comes to the playoff picture. Although they have won two straight games those wins have come without franchise goaltender Henrik Lundqvist in the net. Rookie goalie Cam Talbot has won eight of his ten starts, and the question has come up if he will start for the third consecutive game on Friday against the Washington Capitals.
The Rangers are a much different team when Talbot is in the net. They seem to play tighter and don’t allow as many odd man rushes. But when they do slip up Talbot has been there to make that one key save. That is usually the job Lundqvist does, but this season he has not been there to bail his team out.
The Rangers need wins and points, and they need a lot of them. They just came off a brutal homestand where they only gained eight of a possible 18 points. The only reason the Rangers haven’t fallen way behind the pack is the fact that the Metropolitan Division is horrible. This keeps them alive because the new playoff rules put more emphasis on the division with the top three teams in the division making the playoffs and then two wild cards. The Rangers are somehow tied for that third spot in the division. If it wasn’t for the last two games and Talbot’s goaltending the Rangers could have fallen back to seventh place in the division, right ahead of the lowly New York Islanders.
The last thing Alain Vigneault wants is a goalie controversy. He has had that in the past with Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider when Vigneault was the coach of the Vancouver Canucks. It creates a stirrup with the media and can kill one of the goalie’s confidence.
Lundqvist is the Rangers starting goalie, but he has lost a lot of his confidence and swagger that has made him so good. He is a five-time Vezina Trophy finalist and a one time winner. Lundqvist was just inked to a seven-year extension that makes him the fifth highest paid player in the NHL. The Rangers have invested their future in Lundqvist and they need him to play better, but for now Vigneault has little choice but to play Talbot.
The argument to play Lundqvist is very intriguing. In his last two games in Washington he has not allowed a goal. The first one was a memorable Game 7 shutout in the first round of last year’s playoffs. The second one was early in this year’s regular season where Lundqvist once again stifled the Capitals.
Vigneault should play Talbot. The team is playing better with him in the net right now, and you have to play the hot hand to get wins and points right now. Hopefully Lundqvist finds his game soon, but for right now the Rangers have to ride Talbot.