Kings hoping goaltender Cam Talbot can return to early form as Stanley Cup playoffs begin

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. (AP) — It would be an understatement to say that Cam Talbot's season has been a roller coaster.

The Los Angeles Kings, though, are hoping their veteran netminder's game is ascending heading into the Stanley Cup playoffs.

“My game is at a place where I like it, but there’s always room for improvement,” Talbot said. “Any time we get a practice day, which is often anymore, I try to take advantage of it.”

Talbot signed a one-year contract with the Kings during the offseason, his fourth team in five seasons. He played in 54 games and started 52, marking the fourth time in his 12-year career and first since 2018 that he has started at least 50 games. He posted a record of 27-20-6.

Among goaltenders with at least 50 games, Talbot is fifth with a 2.50 goals-against average and .913 save percentage.

The overall numbers are good, but Talbot has been inconsistent. He closed the regular season with four wins in his last six starts, but allowed four goals on 13 shots in Thursday night’s 5-4 overtime victory against Chicago. With the win, the Kings moved back into third place in the Pacific Division and drew a first-round matchup against the Edmonton Oilers.

When the series opens in Edmonton on Monday, it will mark the third straight season the Oilers and Kings have met in the first round.

Talbot was one of the league's best goalies from the start of the season until the Christmas break. He was 14-6-2 and second in the league with a 2.06 GAA before going through a stretch in which he was winless in 10 straight starts.

The midseason slump, when the Kings went 3-8-6 before the All-Star break, led to the firing of Todd McLellan as coach and Jim Hiller taking over.

Even though Talbot wasn't happy about the skid — where he went 0-7-3 and had a 3.86 GAA — he did see some things that didn't cause an overall breakdown in his confidence.

“You don't forget how to play a position. The first four or five games we allowed two goals or less. If we would have put the puck in the net like we are now, that would have led to a couple extra wins,” he said. “So, you just try to remind yourself that you're here for a reason, and the way that this season started wasn't a fluke.”

Hiller said the biggest improvement he saw from Talbot after the All-Star break was making the first save and not allowing many rebound opportunities.

“As a coach, you can overanalyze the position. What I've seen is that he's controlling rebounds and when he doesn't our defensemen are doing a good job of boxing out,” Hiller said.

Los Angeles is looking to win its first playoff series since winning its second Stanley Cup in three years in 2014. It went into last year's series against the Oilers with unproven playoff netminders in Joonas Korpisalo and Pheonix Copley.

Talbot and backup David Rittich have playoff experience, while Korpisalo had only one playoff series on his resume before last year.

Los Angeles is an underdog in the upcoming series after Edmonton won in six games last year and in seven in 2022.

“The biggest question is can Talbot and Rittich made the routine save 100% of the game and then the spectacular ones. The lower the score, the better LA would like it. That is where they flourish and I think that's where they will frustrate you,” TNT analyst Ed Olczyk said.