Cam Talbot is back at his best, which is great news for the LA Kings down the stretch

Quite the second half it’s been for goaltender Cam Talbot.

To be fair, it’s been quite the second half for LA Kings goaltending in general. Since the NHL All-Star break, the Kings rank fifth in team save percentage, with Cam Talbot and David Rittich combining for a .919 mark in 23 combined games played.

To be really fair, it’s been quite the second half defensively for the LA Kings. In that span, the Kings have conceded a total of 53 goals, the fifth fewest in the NHL. Seven of those came on one clunker of a night in Buffalo and if you remove that one game, the Kings would rank second in that metric.

Through it all, from Talbot on throughout the rest of the lineup, the Kings have gotten solid goaltending, behind solid defensive play, and it’s led to a really strong stretch of hockey for a club that has gone 15-7-1 over that time.

For Talbot, you might look at his season as a tale of three parts, but it’s really not as drastic as it might have felt in the moment.

His first-half performance earned him the Kings’ nod at the 2024 NHL All-Star Game in Toronto, a well-deserved honor. As the Kings lulled in the middle of the season, so did Talbot’s overall record and numbers, but that gap is a lot smaller than you think. His record was the recipient of the “blown two-goal leads era” and everyone played a hand in that. But, take out a stretch of five games from January 13 through February 13 and we might be talking about Vezina-level numbers.

We’re at that point, though, because of how well Talbot has played in the second half. Had he not bounced back the way that he did, we might be having a bit of a different conversation. He knew it needed to happen and he’s gone out there and done it.

“Me personally, I wasn’t playing my best in January and the guys deserved better,” Talbot said. “I knew that after the break, I needed to go out and do what I did to start the season. Happy to be back in there on a regular basis and contributing.”

Sometimes, when a goaltender is struggling, it can be the smaller fraction of an inch off. That’s the difference sometimes between a night with two goals against compared to five. A fraction off on an angle or a read and it’s in your net. For Talbot, though, he didn’t really feel that was necessarily the case.

He put it bluntly – you don’t forget how to play the position. He’s been a goalie in this league for a number of years and he still remembered how to do it. For him specifically, he felt the issues came “between the ears”, which is something he set out to correct.

“You go through a tough stretch like that and sometimes it’s not just a physical reset but a mental reset as well,” he said. “You don’t forget how to play the position, sometimes it’s a confidence thing and I knew that it was going to come back at some point.”

When the problems are in that area, perhaps some time to dive into a special event can help.

For Talbot, it was the NHL All-Star game, played close to home in Toronto, Ontario.

When he took the ice in Toronto on February 3, representing the Pacific Division, he had not won an NHL game since December 23. Some solid performances in there, but his four starts leading in saw him concede 18 goals, getting pulled twice in the process. Not exactly a wave of momentum.

What the midseason classic provided, though, was a special personal moment. For many players on the team, the chance to get away from the game after a stretch of 14 losses out of 17 provided clarity, a reset moment. For Talbot, it was a hockey event, but one spent with family. To have his children with him, along with so many family members, provided a special moment for he and his loved ones.

“I always said I wanted to play long enough where they’d actually remember and appreciate how cool it is, to see what Dad does, and the All-Star game was one of those ‘pinch me’ moments for me,” Talbot said. “It was cool to be able to share it with my son and my daughter……that was fun for me to be a part of, but fun to see as a Dad as well.”

Fast forward to his first start out of the break and Talbot stopped 29 of 30 in a 2-1 win over Pittsburgh. Then it was 32 of 33 in a win over Columbus. In his 12 starts since the break, Talbot has not posted a save percentage below .900 once. Not one single time. Of the 33 goaltenders with at least 10 starts in that time, Talbot’s .937 save percentage is the best mark in the NHL.

What’s been great for the Kings in that time too is that it hasn’t just been Talbot who has been on his game.

His goaltending partner, David Rittich, has a .916 save percentage from ten starts since the All-Star break and that includes the first 40 minutes in the Buffalo game. You don’t hit Top-5 goaltending marks as a team without either one guy playing every night or two guys playing well. The Kings have the latter right now and it’s formed a pretty solid tandem approach.

“Whenever your number is called upon, you’re just ready to go and I think Ritter feels the same way,” Talbot said. “When both guys are rolling, that’s just a good thing for the team. I’m happy to have that going well for us right now.”

In having both guys playing at a high level, it’s given Head Coach Jim Hiller and Goaltending Coach Mike Buckley a decision to make on most nights.

“We’re going game-to-game,” Hiller said of his goaltenders. “There was a stretch, taking it back maybe a month, where David played more than Cam and now there’s been a stretch where Cam has played a little bit more than David. We don’t know, they’re both playing well and we’ll take it from there.”

With now just 11 games remaining for the Kings, whether it be Talbot or Rittich in net on any given night, the Kings know they’ll need goaltending to continue at the level that it has. Since the break, the level across the board has risen, within all three position groups.

Now, it’s about continuing that success when the games are at their most important, with the playoffs in sight.

For the Kings, with two goaltenders that have delivered, it certainly presents a good problem to have for Hiller and the staff.

“We feel good about both of them and that’s always a good spot to be in,” Hiller added. “When either of your goaltenders, whoever gets called, you have confidence in them, that’s not just me talking, I know our entire team feels that way.”

Would also recommend a listen below, if you haven’t already, on a really good conversation with Talbot on All The Kings Men. A little bit more personal and about him than about his play this season, per say, but I really enjoyed the chat!

Kings are off today, Insiders. Back at it tomorrow for practice in Vancouver, before traveling to Edmonton later in the day. Much more to follow as the team continues the Western Canadian swing!

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