When the Rangers seek their fifth consecutive victory this evening it will be Cam Talbot, and not Henrik Lundqvist, guarding their goal against the Edmonton Oilers at Madison Square Garden. With back-to-back games tonight and tomorrow in Pittsburgh head coach Alain Vigneault chose to give Talbot the start against the Oilers with Lundqvist getting the call against the Eastern Conference-leading Penguins.
Talbot will be starting for the first time since a 5-3 loss against the Islanders at The Garden on January 21st, a game which saw him surrender four goals (one empty net) on 36 shots. Lundqvist started the next five games, winning four in a row including both outdoor contests at Yankee Stadium and Tuesday's 5-1 victory over the Colorado Avalanche at MSG.
In fact Talbot has started only two of the Rangers previous 14 games, and three of the last 18 dating to December 29th as Lundqvist has found his groove between the pipes. Talbot's most recent win came January 18th in Ottawa, a 4-1 Blueshirts victory.
The Rangers current four-game winning streak is their best such run of the season. They have also won seven of their last nine games, and ten of 13.
"I would say we've been playing some real good hockey for some time now," explained Vigneault on Thursday morning. "Hank has found his rhythym and that's helped us to be on the right side of the win column lately. Both of our goaltenders have played well. And I think lately we've been able to get contributions from more people in our lineup, and I think you need that to win on a consistent basis."
During their four game winning streak the Rangers--who have also gone 15-5-1 in their last 21 contests--have had 14 different players acoount for their 18 goals scored. Derick Brassard and Mats Zuccarello will both enter play tonight with four-game point-scoring streaks.
"We've been playing well, playing with a lot of confidence, and I think it was a statement against Colorado, coming out hard and probably playing our best first period of the year," stated winger Carl Hagelin after the morning skate. "We still have two more games (before the Olympic break) and we are focused on that, focused on getting the two points tonight."
Talbot will be appearing in his 17th game tonight, making his 15th start of the season. He is 10-4-0 with a 1.78 goals against average, .935 save percentage, and two shutouts. He will be opposed by Edmonton's Ben Scrivens (24 gp, 9-8-4, 2.03 GAA, .935 save %, 4 shutouts), who shut out the Rangers 1-0 as a member of the Los Angeles Kings back on November 17th.
The Oilers enter play having won four of their last five games. Though they remain in last place in the Pacific Division, the Oilers are a dangerous offensive team and have most definitely caught the Rangers attention in preparing for this contest.
"We understand their skill, especially on their top lines, so we have to be able to defend, and if we defend well our offense will come off that," noted defenseman Ryan McDonagh.
Added Vigneault, "This team (the Oilers) can score. They have a lot of skill, great youth with a lot of upside and potential, and they're playing real well right now."