Cam Talbot's second-straight shutout gave him 37 wins on the season, and with 10 games remaining in the campaign, he could be set to post the best single-season marks of any Oilers goaltender.
When it comes to an overall resume as an Edmonton Oilers goaltender, Grant Fuhr is hard to top. He was a Vezina Trophy winner, four-time finalist for the award, a first-team all-star, set the franchise mark with a 40-win season and there’s that little thing where he backstopped the Oilers to four Stanley Cups. A rightful Hall of Famer, you won’t find many willing to argue Fuhr’s standing as the greatest goaltender in Edmonton’s history.
But as far as single-season marks go, Cam Talbot is making a case that the best goaltending campaign in Oilers history belongs to him.
Talbot posted his most impressive shutout of the season Monday in Edmonton. Starting between the pipes against a desperate Kings team looking for a spark to send them on a run to the post-season, Talbot stopped all 35 Los Angeles shots he faced on the evening, which included 19 in the second frame, en route to a 2-0 win. The 35-save shutout was the most saves Talbot had made in a blanking this season, surpassing the 33-save dandy he turned in against the Vancouver Canucks just two days earlier. Yes, that’s right: Talbot is currently riding back-to-back shutouts and hasn’t allowed a goal against in more than 140 minutes.
But Talbot’s shutout was impressive for more reasons than it being the second-straight he had registered or that it came against a playoff hungry team at a crucial point in the campaign. Talbot’s shutout marked one of the few ways that he has found himself on pace to post arguably the best single season goaltending marks in franchise history.
Time isn’t on Talbot’s side as the Oilers have only 10 games remaining in the campaign, but his consecutive shutouts have upped his season total to seven. And given the rate he’s posted shutouts, Talbot finds himself set to register an eighth before the season concludes. If he manages to do that, Talbot will match the single-season franchise high, which was set in 1997-98 by Curtis Joseph and matched by Tommy Salo in 2000-01. Talbot’s seven shutouts already have him sitting alone in third-place all-time as he became only the third goaltender in franchise history to manage at least seven in a season.
Posting so many shutouts has had an obvious impact on Talbot’s overall numbers, too. More specifically, it has impacted his save percentage. In the history of the franchise, no starting goaltender has boasted a save percentage as impressive as Talbot’s over the course of a full season. In fact, of goaltenders to start 30-plus games, Talbot’s first two seasons have seen him post the two of the three best SP marks in Oilers history. Talbot’s .917 SP in 2015-16 was seemingly only a warmup, however, for the .922 SP he has posted through 65 games this season.
The difficulty in comparing Talbot’s numbers to those of prior greats, of course, is that the game has changed. When Fuhr was in his heyday, it was the freewheeling, high-scoring 1980s. A game with 10-plus goals wasn’t all that rare and affairs with that last-shot-wins feel were commonplace. But when it comes to SP above league average, it paints a picture of Talbot’s season as among the best in Oilers’ history.
In 2016-17, the league average is a .913 SP, which sits slightly below the rate of the past few seasons. As noted, Talbot’s effort has seen him turn in a .922 mark, which is .009 better than the average netminder. Only five other times has an Oilers netminders played at least 30 games and turned in a save percentage that much higher than the league average. Andy Moog’s .894 SP in 1984-85 is top of the class — his mark was .019 better than the league average .875 SP — and the duo of Moog and Fuhr split the crease and went .015 and .016 better than league average in 1985-86 with .889 and .890 SPs, respectively. Tommy Salo is the only modern Oilers netminder to best Talbot’s season when he posted a .914 SP during a year where .904 was the average. The thing is, though, Talbot could possibly match or surpass that .01 margin by season’s end.
In terms of goals against average, Talbot’s season has been equally impressive. His 2.32 GAA this season is 0.28 better than the 2.60 league average. The only goaltenders who have had better full seasons are Salo (1999-00; 2001-02), Moog (1984-85) and Bill Ranford (1989-90). With a few more solid outings, though, Talbot could potentially lower his GAA by a few points and end up passing both of Salo’s marks, the best of which saw him finish with a GAA .31 better than the league average.
And boasting such a stellar SP and GAA is putting Talbot on pace to capture one of the more coveted single-season records in Oilers history, and that’s Fuhr’s all-time mark of 40 wins. In his first season in Edmonton, Talbot joined an exclusive club by becoming one of only nine goaltenders to win 20-plus games as an Oiler. When he registered his 30th win this season, he entered an even more exclusive club, joining Fuhr, Moog, Salo and Curtis Joseph as the fifth goalie to hit the plateau. But Talbot is chasing down win No. 40 now, and Fuhr is the only other netminder to get there. However, not even Fuhr was putting up wins at this pace.
It’s relatively close, the chase for all-time wins between Talbot and Fuhr, but when Fuhr set the franchise’s all-time win mark in 1987-88, he did so by playing 75 games and didn’t hit the 40-win mark until the penultimate game of the season. Talbot, however, has a chance to reach 40 wins with at least five games left on the schedule. In fact, having won 37 games already, Talbot stands to not only match Fuhr’s record 40-win season, but take sole possession of first on the all-time list with 42 wins. At his current pace, Talbot will have only played 74 games — one less than Fuhr with the potential for at least one more victory. A record that has stood for nearly 30 years appears ready to fall.
Where Talbot finishes his career as Oiler is to be seen, though it’s hard to imagine any goaltender will ever be able to match what Fuhr accomplished over the course of his career. But when we look back at the greatest single season ever posted by an Edmonton netminder, it’s looking like it will be Talbot, not Fuhr, who holds that crown.
(League average save percentages via Hockey-Reference.com)
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