Cam Talbot starts Monday vs. Jets

Updated: December 2, 2013, 10:20 PM ET
By Katie Strang | ESPNNewYork.com

NEW YORK -- The New York Rangers' goaltending situation just got a lot more interesting.

Backup goalie Cam Talbot was awarded his second straight start following his career-high 35-save effort in the Rangers' 5-2 win Saturday, getting the nod again Monday over former Vezina Trophy winner Henrik Lundqvist.

The Rangers ended up falling 5-2 to the Winnipeg Jets. Talbot made 25 saves in the loss.

After leaving reporters hanging over the weekend -- declining to reveal his goaltender for Monday -- Rangers coach Alain Vigneault confirmed Talbot would indeed be the starter against the Jets.

Vigneault was emphatic Monday in telling reporters that Lundqvist remains the Rangers' No. 1 goaltender. But Vigneault felt Talbot was the best option for Monday night's home game.

"Henrik is definitely the No. 1 goaltender on this team," Vigneault said. "He's proven that over the years -- that he's one of the best, if not the best, in the National Hockey League. But for tonight's game, I feel the best thing for us is to go with Cam."

Lundqvist admitted he was not happy about sitting on the bench for the second straight game, but he said he supported Vigneault's decision.

"I've been here for eight years. Have I ever been happy sitting on the bench? I don't think so, but that being said, Cam is playing really well," Lundqvist said after staying on the ice late for extra work with goaltending coach Benoit Allaire. "I see this as a great opportunity to get a couple days to work really hard on my game and be ready for the next time they tell me to start."

Lundqvist had not sat consecutive games while healthy since 2010-11, but he has had an uncharacteristically difficult start to the season. Irrefutably the team's most consistent performer in recent years, Lundqvist admits his play has dipped to begin the 2013-14 season.

The 31-year-old Swede is 8-11-0 this season with a 2.51 goals-against average and .917 save percentage. He has dropped two of his past three starts and surrendered nine goals during that span.

"This game is not about what you did last year or the last eight years or even last month. It's about now. Tonight this is probably, or is, the best decision for this team," Lundqvist said. "I stand behind that and just have to see this as a challenge for me to really reach my top level. I'm not satisfied being OK or [playing] a solid game. I want to be great."

Meanwhile, Talbot's emergence has been a godsend for a Rangers team that has struggled to maintain consistency. His poise and confidence have gone far beyond what anyone could have expected of the 26-year-old, who began the season in Hartford.

In his first seven starts prior to Monday, Talbot posted a dazzling 6-1-0 record with a 1.49 goals-against average, a .944 save percentage and two shutouts. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, he is the first goaltender in franchise history to hold opponents to two goals or fewer in his first seven starts and the first in the NHL since Boston's Frank Brimsek had a span of 12 straight in 1938-39.

"I'm just going out there and trying to play the way I've been playing, trying to give the guys another chance to win tonight," Talbot said.

Vigneault did not speculate on what will happen in the future should Talbot sustain this level of play, but there is some interesting subtext to the situation.

Lundqvist is in the last year of a six-year, $41.25 million deal, and talks between him and the Rangers' camp about a long-term extension have failed to yield any significant progress.

Lundqvist admitted the stalled negotiations were a distraction in the preseason, although he said he has since put the issue behind him. When asked whether an extension would help solidify the team's assertion that he is, indeed, the No. 1 goaltender, Lundqvist declined to comment.

"I'm not going to discuss my contract," he said.

Katie Strang covers the NHL for ESPN.com. She is a graduate of Michigan State University and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.
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