Sometime over the past ten years, it became taboo for NHL head coaches to start the same goalie on consecutive days.
As the theory goes, unrested goalies don’t fare as well in the second game. And it’s a long season. You don’t want to end up with a worn out or injured goalie at playoff time because you rode him too hard during the regular season.
In general, one might argue the unrested goalie struggles in game two because his defence is tired from playing in back-to-back days and giving up higher quality shots because of it.
But even if you buy into the “rest is a weapon” rule for goalies in these situations, as most of the league does, there’s always going to be the exception to the rule.
And one such exception was staring Sens’ head coach D.J. Smith in the face on Sunday afternoon.
The Senators went into the weekend with afternoon games in Detroit Saturday and then Minnesota on Sunday. Smith had to decide which game Cam Talbot would start. Would it be Detroit, the more winnable, more important game? Or would it be Minnesota, the team that Talbot really, really wanted a piece of?
Talbot wasn’t happy about his exit from Minnesota earlier this year. He was an all-star for the Wild last season, helping them to their best regular season finish ever. But they still decided to go out and acquire veteran Marc-Andre Fleury at the trade deadline. And then, despite Talbot closing the year with a run of 13-3, the Wild started Fleury in the playoffs and they lost in round one.
Despite all this, Talbot still wanted to continue playing in Saint Paul. He and his wife, Kelly, have young twins and they had hoped to drop anchor for a bit. And since Fleury was a free agent, there was every reason to think Fleury – about to turn 38 – was a playoff rental. Instead, the Wild re-signed Fleury, and then traded Talbot to Ottawa for goalie Filip Gustavsson.
With a chip firmly implanted in his shoulder, Talbot began a new hockey chapter in Ottawa and it’s safe to say he had this season’s Minnesota Wild matchups circled on his calendar. He missed the first one in October due to a rib injury. With Fleury tending the other net, Talbot could only watch as the Wild won 4-2 in Ottawa. Then on Sunday, with Gustavsson tending the other net (the man he was traded for), Talbot could only watch as the Wild won 4-2 again.
The Wild welcomed him back to Minnesota during a TV timeout. Sitting on the Sens bench, he got a nice ovation from the fans, but the team couldn’t be bothered to get “Tablot’s” name right. It was probably an innocent mistake made by an intern, but still a little more salt in open wound.
Unless they meet in the Cup final, which would easily fit into an episode of Talbot’s favourite show, “Stranger Things,” the Sens won’t play Minnesota again this season. His revenge game will have to wait until next fall and it won’t be the same, if it happens at all.
Talbot has won 4 straight games and 7 of his last 9. He was the right choice to face Detroit on Saturday and helped the Sens get an important divisional win. And despite what the “best practices” might suggest, he would also have been the right choice to face Minnesota on Sunday. As the far hotter goalie, Talbot probably would have given the Senators the best chance to win.
But more than that, win or lose, Talbot had a chance to make a statement to the Wild and himself. He’s moved on, he’s still a great NHL goalie, chapter closed.
And Smith would have sent a loud message to Talbot and his team that he has their back. How endearing would it have been for Smith to step up and tell the group, “I know “the book” says I’m not supposed to do this, but this one’s a special occasion. This one means a ton to Cam so we’re going with him again today, boys.”
No one is suggesting we return to a time when goalies played 70 plus games per season, although it should be noted that Cam Talbot was the last NHL goalie to do that, playing 73 games for Edmonton in 2016-17.
What is being suggested is common sense, an exception to the rule. Leadership tactics aren’t robotic. Not everything needs to be handled by the book.
By Steve Warne