Talbot starts 3rd straight in D.C.; Staal closer, Callahan skates


                 WASHINGTON---At this point in time, in the 39th game of the season, the truth is that Rangers coach Alain Vigneault has more faith in Cam Talbot than a rested Henrik Lundqvist.

                 Vigneault tabbed Talbot, 26, who is 8-2 with a 1.60 goals against average and has been in the net for two straight wins, to start his third consecutive game tonight, against the Capitals at Verizon Center. Lundqvist, the team’s No.1 goaltender for the past eight seasons, hasn’t sat for three consecutive games when healthy since 2006.

                 Lundqvist, who last started a week ago in a 5-3 loss to the Islanders, said he expected the head coach to go with the hot hand.

                “Unfortunately, when I’ve been out there, we haven’t been winning enough,” he said. “I think there have been good parts in my game, but overall, I’ve been inconsistent….I have to work harder.”

               On the other hand, Lundqvist said: “Cam’s been playing really well. In the end, it’s about the team and what’s best for the team. I have to put myself aside. It’s a tough balance because I’m really competitive and I want to play.”

               Without mentioning Lundqvist, Vigneault is sticking with Talbot because, he said, “Cam’s played well, won his last two games and I though it just made sense to come back with him. I’m looking at this like we are trying to win some hockey games. We were good in our last two games, our goaltender was good and I’m trying to do what is best for us to win tonight.”

               Washington’s hot backup, Philipp Grubauer, (4-1-1, 2.20 GAA) who stopped 30 shots in a 4-1 victory at Madison Square Garden on December 8, will be between the pipes for the Capitals.   

               This certainly has the makings of an intriguing five-game road trip, with Tampa next up on Sunday. If Talbot plays well tonight, does Vigneault continue to roll with the first-year NHL netminder?

               The other immediate storyline, as I wrote for today’s paper, is Marc Staal, who skated with the team for the first time at the Tampa Times Forum since his Dec. 7 concussion, and could play before the Rangers return to the Garden. That would shift either Justin Falk or Michael Del Zotto to the sidelines again. Staal would not say whether he is targeting a date for a return, but spoke as if he is day to day, depending on his wind and legs. I would not be shocked if he dresses for the Pittsburgh or Toronto games on Jan. 3 or 5th. “It’s certainly not out of the question,” he said. “All depends on how it goes.”

                And in another positive sign on the health front, captain Ryan Callahan skated on his own here in sweatpants and wearing a brace on his left knee just 17 days after spraining the MCL. “I know it’s a big step in the right direction,” Callahan said. “I’ve got to take it in stride. The first couple days you’re pretty miserable, but then you work as hard as you can to get back in the lineup.”

                Callahan, who was named to the U.S. Olympic team’s leadership group in August, said when the injury occurred, he thought about the severity and wondered if it would prevent him from playing in February. “The way it looks now, it doesn’t look like it will affect that at all, but my main concern is getting back to play for the Rangers.”

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