Their three-day holiday break in the schedule over, the Rangers boarded a team charter at 8:00 AM Friday morning to make their way the nation's capital where they will resume play this evening with a tilt against the Washington Capitals. Upon landing in Washington the Rangers headed straight to the Verizon Center for a video meeting and then the morning skate, where Marc Staal participated and afterwards Ryan Callahan skated on his own.
Head coach Alain Vigneault confirmed that Cam Talbot will make his NHL career-high third straight start in goal after backstopping wins at Madison Square Garden over the Minnesota Wild on Sunday and the Toronto Maple Leafs on Monday prior to the break.
"Cam's played well, won his last two games and I thought it just made sense to come back with him," explained Vigneault. "I'm looking at this like we are trying to win some hockey games. We were good in our last two games, our goaltender was good, and I'm trying to do what is best for us to win tonight."
Talbot is 8-2-0 in 12 appearances and ten starts so far in his first National Hockey League season. He has allowed more than two goals only once so far, and he lowered his goals against average to a sublime 1.60 by surrendering only two goals combined in his last two starts. His save percentage stands at .938 entering this evening's contest against a high-octane Capitals offense led by the NHL's goal-scoring leader Alex Ovechkin, who has 30 goals in 35 games.
"Cam has come in here with a calmness and a belief in himself, and that is something we saw right away," defenseman Anton Stralman said following the morning skate. "We have a goalie that trusts himself, so we trust in him, too. He's been playing really well."
The team's No. 1 goalie, Henrik Lundqvist, remained on the ice for a while following the morning skate to work on certain "details" of his game with Staal and forward Taylor Pyatt, who both will not play this evening. Afterwards Lundqvist threw his support behind Talbot, even admitting he was not surprised that the 26 year-old rookie would once again be starting in goal against the Capitals.
"Cam's been playing really well," offered Lundqvist. "I want to be out there...but in the end it's about the team, and what is best for the team. I have to put myself aside. It's a tough balance because I'm really competitive and I want to play."
Lundqvist currently owns a 10-15-2 record, 2.77 GAA, and .905 save percentage in 28 appearances this season. Over his last seven starts he is 1-4-2 and allowed three goals or more in all seven contests.
"Unfortunately when I have been out there we haven't been winning enough," said Lundqvist. "I think there have been good parts in my game, but overall I have been inconsistent."
Certainly getting Lundqvist back on top of his game is key for the Rangers in the big picture, as is the continued solid play of Talbot. As Vigneault stated it's all about the two points at the end of the night, and tonight's contest is no exception what with Washington four points ahead of New York for second place in the Metropolitan Division standings.
Talbot will be opposed this evening by Washington's back-up goaltender Philipp Grubauer, who made 30 saves in a 4-1 Caps win over the Rangers at The Garden in his first NHL start back on December 8th. The 22 year-old Grubauer has started six of the Capitals previous eight games ahead of No. 1 goalie Braden Holtby, and is 4-1-1 with a 2.20 goals against average and .934 save percentage in seven appearances this year.