By NICOLINO DIBENEDETTO
(AP) -- Signing a rich contract earlier this month appeared to cement Henrik Lundqvist as the New York Rangers' franchise goaltender for the foreseeable future.
Cam Talbot's superior play, however, will keep the Vezina Trophy winner on the bench for a third straight game.
After winning back-to-back contests with Talbot in net just before the Christmas break, the backup will get the start again as the Rangers open a five-game road trip against the Washington Capitals on Friday night.
Lundqvist signed a seven-year, $59.5 million contract extension to become the highest-paid goaltender in the NHL, but he hasn't lived up to that lofty status this season. He's gone 2-4-2 with a 3.41 goals-against average in eight games since inking the deal Dec. 4, losing his most recent appearance 5-3 to the New York Islanders at home last Friday after giving up four goals on 19 shots.
Talbot helped New York (18-18-2) bounce back by beating Minnesota 4-1 on Sunday before defeating Toronto 2-1 in a shootout the following day. He totaled 49 saves in those games and made two more in the tiebreaker against the Maple Leafs as the Rangers completed a 3-4-2 homestand.
"I'm just trying to go out there and give the guys a chance whenever I get the opportunity," Talbot told the team's official website. "Hopefully, we can come out of the Christmas break on the same note."
Talbot will be making a third straight start for the first time this season. He's 8-2-0 with a 1.60 GAA and two shutouts in 12 games - 10 starts.
"It's about winning. It's about this team getting points. He's doing really well," Lundqvist said Monday. "I have to push myself to be a little bit better to help the team get points here. Then, I'll get more starts."
Lundqvist has posted shutouts in his last two games at Washington, including a 35-save performance in a 5-0 win in Game 7 of the opening round of last season's playoffs.
He wasn't nearly that effective in a 4-1 home loss to the Capitals on Dec. 8, though, making 32 stops. For one more game at least, he'll play a supporting role.
"Cam has come in here with a calmness and a belief in himself, and that is something we saw right away," defenseman Anton Stralman told the team's official website Friday. "We have a goalie that trusts himself, so we trust in him, too. He's been playing really well."
While the Rangers may be hoping for some consistency from their star, the Capitals (19-14-4) have certainly received plenty from Alex Ovechkin. The three-time Hart Trophy winner leads the NHL with 30 goals and is tied with Anaheim's Corey Perry and Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin for fifth with 41 points.
Ovechkin, though, hasn't scored a goal on 37 shots over eight straight meetings with the Rangers, including playoffs. He was held off the score sheet by Anaheim in Monday's 3-2 loss after totaling eight goals and two assists in the previous six contests.
Washington squandered a two-goal first-period lead to the Ducks for its second straight loss.
"It was just a couple of mistakes that cost us the win," center Nicklas Backstrom said. "Overall, I thought we played all right. But it's hard to say you played all right when you lose."
Backstrom has assisted on 12 goals while scoring three of his own over the past seven games, but he's also struggled against New York, failing to get a point in four straight meetings with one assist over the last six.
Mikhail Grabovski has 10 points in 10 games, including a goal on a penalty shot against Lundqvist to cap a three-goal second period Dec. 8.
Updated December 27, 2013