In a surprising move, backup Cam Talbot, not veteran Henrik Lundqvist, will be in goal for the Rangers against the Winnipeg Jets Monday at Madison Square Garden.
It is only the second time since February 2011 that a healthy Lundqvist -- a five-time Vezina Trophy finalist and winner in 2011-12 -- has sat for two consecutive games. Talbot, who is 6-1 with a 1.49 GAA and .944 save percentage, made 35 saves during the 5-2 defeat of the Canucks on Saturday.
"Cam is playing really well," said Lundqvist, who is 8-11, with a 2.51 GAA and .917 save percentage. "This is a great opportunity for me to get a couple days of work...When I look back at the last few games, I do a lot of good things, but you make one mistake...and for a goalie, that's one too many."
Coach Alain Vigneault, who made the decision after the Vancouver game but did not make it official until this morning, tried to defuse the perception of any goalie competition, declaring that Lundqvist is the No. 1 goaltender.
"For me, it's about trying to win one game," Vigneault said.
But unlike the last stretch when the team played nine games in 15 nights and Vigneault and goalie coach Benoit Allaire devised a 6-3 split between Lundqvist and Talbot, Vigneault said he's "going to a game-to-game basis." The Rangers visit Buffalo on Thursday.
Vigneault acknowledged that the ultra-competitive Lundqvist was not happy, because he wants to play every night.
But Lundqvist backed Vigneault's choice, putting the onus on himself to use the time to practice and raise the level of his play.
"This game is not about what you did last year or eight years or last month, it's about now, and tonight, this probably is the best decision for the team," Lundqvist said. "I stand behind that. I just have to see it as a challenge for me to reach my top level. I'm not satisfied with being okay...I'm not going to be happy just playing solid. I want to push myself to play great, that's what I expect of myself. It's about how I focus and make decisions, more than technical."
Patience and over-thinking, Lundqvist explained, is an issue for him.
"At times I feel I'm almost a step ahead of the play, reading the play and, instead of just waiting to react, I'm analyzing the game as it goes on," he said. "And that's not really how I want to play. I want to wait, and react."
Lundqvist, who was replaced by Talbot in the third period on Nov. 25 in Tampa after allowing four goals, denied that stalled negotiations between his agent and the team on a contract extension were a distraction.
"During the pre-season, I was thinking about it a lot, after that I put it behind me, just focused on practicing and playing better," Lundqvist said. "I haven't really talked about it with a lot of people."
Talbot, 26, who replaced Martin Biron, who was waived and decided to retire on Oct. 20, is trying to take the starts in stride.
"When I got called up, I thought I would get just spot starts, I didn't know what to make of it at the time," Talbot said, noting that his confidence is increasing. "I'm just trying to stay grounded and keep working hard. Just try to be ready."