New York Hockey: Martin Biron
That could have been a one-off, of course, had they recovered quickly.
The spanking they received from the Sharks was followed by another atrocious loss two nights later, as they were blown out of Anaheim with a 6-0 blanking by the Ducks.
There was some improvement in the team's 5-3 loss to the St. Louis Blues on Saturday, the last stop in what turned out to be a calamitous five-game trip out West, but the team has yet to shake its worrisome 1-4-0 start to the season.
"I don't think there's a sense of panic, but there definitely needs to be, and is, a sense of urgency," said team captain Ryan Callahan.
That much is true, and is certainly worth highlighting. A team can't win a division title or secure a playoff berth in the first two weeks of the season, but the Rangers have to be wary of just how big of a hole they dig.
As CBC's Elliotte Friedman pointed out in his weekly "30 Thoughts" column, only three teams from 2005-06 through 2011-12 who were four points out of a playoff spot by Nov. 1 went on to earn a spot in the postseason.
As it stands on Oct. 15, the Rangers are three points back.
Granted, it is far too early to start drawing any sort of statistical conclusions based on five games of an 82-game season.
That's good for the Rangers, considering some of their advanced stats are horrendous. The team ranks 27th in the league in Corsi with 44.6 percent (meaning they have shot only 44.6 percent of all shots taken during their games) and dead last (922) in PDO (shooting percentage plus save percentage), according to hockeyanalysis.com.
Too soon to geek out and get worried? Yes, but 10, 20 games should serve as a better barometer. By then, those numbers need to improve or the Rangers' outlook will be bleak.
Changes have already come for the struggling squad, as the team waived beloved backup Martin Biron and rugged winger Arron Asham and recalled 26-year-old netminder Cam Talbot and young prospect J.T. Miller in their stead.
"When things change, you always feel the pressure," goaltender Henrik Lundqvist said on Monday.
Miller's presence could put some other players' ice time in jeopardy if things don't turn around quickly. Thought the 20-year-old prospect skated on the fourth line in practice Tuesday, Alain Vigneault indicated he could push someone out of a top-six forward spot should his play warrant such a promotion.
"Some guys’ production is not where it needs to be to stay in those spots [in] the long term. So they’re aware of that," he said. "I don’t have to mention any names. But [Miller] would be one of the possibilities of moving up there if people don’t produce."
One positive change that should help the Rangers? They have returned to the Eastern time zone, where they will play three games with reasonable travel beginning with Wednesday's match in D.C. against the Washington Capitals.
The team will not play its season opener at Madison Square Garden until Oct. 28.
"I don't think we're in for a 'smoother go' but I do believe though we're going to be in the right environment on a much more frequent basis," coach Alain Vigneault said after the team's second straight day of practice at the team's training facility in Westchester. "It's easier to work on things in your building, in your environment, in your training facility, in your video room, in your workout room than it is when you're going from hotel to another."
"We're going to have a lot of time here to work on different things that I think are going to be real beneficial for our group," Vigneault said.
Both Miller and Talbot practiced with the team Tuesday and seemed eager about the opportunity to help a team that struggled with a 1-4-0 start.
"It feels unbelievable," said the 26-year-old Talbot, who car-pooled with Miller to New York Monday evening. "I was pretty excited. This is my first call-up so I'm just trying to make the best of it and help the team any way I can."
Talbot is expected to assume the backup goaltender gig behind starter Henrik Lundqvist now that Biron has cleared waivers and been assigned to the team's AHL affiliate in Hartford, CT.
The former University of Alabama-Huntsville netminder had a strong camp with the Rangers in September. Following an exit meeting with coach Alain Vigneault that he deemed "positive" Talbot got the sense he might get an opportunity with the big club before too long.
"I think when AV said I was in the running for the back-up [job] that gave me a little bit of hope that this could happen at some point," Talbot said.
Miller also made a strong case for himself after being sent down after playing the season-opener against the Coyotes. In three games with the Wolf Pack, Miller scored four goals. That made it an easy decision for Vigneault and the Rangers' brass when they huddled over who to bring up to fill the void left by Rick Nash's absence (concussion).
"That's what I expected," Vigneault said of the 20-year-old forward. "He went there, scored four goals, got some great scouting reports...the coaching staff over there said he played real well."
As far as what happens with Biron and Asham, both of whom cleared waivers Tuesday at noon, that remains to be seen. Though it appears Asham would accept an assignment to the team's AHL affiliate, the Hartford Wolf Pack, Biron didn't seem as sure.
The 36-year-old backup goaltender, who struggled in two appearances this season, did not rule out retirement as an option when asked Monday about the possibility. Read more about his thoughts on that here.
Two different sources told ESPNNewYork.com Tuesday that Biron planned to take some time before making a decision on his future.
Defenseman Michael Del Zotto missed practice with the flu on Tuesday. He did not make the trip to D.C. with the Rangers and is not expected to play Wednesday against the Washington Capitals.
Backup goaltender Martin Biron and rugged winger Arron Asham were put on waivers, the team confirmed. Biron, who was notified of the decision by coach Alain Vigneault after practicing Monday, did not rule out retirement when asked about his options if he is not claimed.
"I don't know. I think there are many options ahead of me. I was just put on waivers, so we'll see what happens with that," Biron said. "It's not the best-case scenario, obviously, but I'm going to be all right and I'm going to figure it all out."
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The 40-year-old netminder, who backed up Martin Brodeur in New Jersey the past three seasons, was expected to challenge Martin Biron for the No. 2 job behind Henrik Lundqvist.
Now that Hedberg has been released, the only competition Biron faces for the gig is Cam Talbot, though it appears likely that Talbot will assume the starting job for the AHL's Connecticut Whale.
Biron turned away all six shots faced in Tuesday's 3-2 win over the Flyers Tuesday night.
The Rangers also announced that Ryan Bourque, Josh Nicholls, Shawn O'Donnell, Michael St. Croix, and Brendon Nash have been assigned to Hartford.
Vigneault acknowledged that former Devil Johan Hedberg, who recently signed a professional tryout contract with the team, has the chance to push incumbent backup Martin Biron for the gig.
"I would say yes," Vigneault said, before stressing the importance of a reliable No. 2 goaltender during an Olympic year. "We need a backup goaltender that can play and win us some games."
Hedberg, regarded as one of the steadiest backups in the league, played 81 games over the past three seasons while backing up future Hall of Famer Martin Brodeur in New Jersey.
Biron played 44 games the past three seasons behind former Vezina Trophy winner Henrik Lundqvist.
Biron is already under contract with the Rangers, but he missed the first two days of camp for "personal reasons."
The 36-year-old Quebec native didn’t go into specifics about the situation, but he said he is now completely present and focused on rejoining the team.
“I’m not going to get into details,” Biron said. “It’s just how life is sometimes and you’ve got to roll with it. I was fortunate I was able to get home and now be back.”
Asked whether the situation is settled, Biron said:
“I’m here 100 percent. I’m where I need to be. I’m focused and I’m really where I wanted to be this morning.”
Defensive prospect Dylan McIlrath, 21, sounded relieved to have a clean bill of health for training camp. The former first-round draft pick said that his surgically-repaired knee is now 100 percent and that he’s eager to make a good impression on organizational brass.
McIlrath, who was selected 10th overall in 2010, said he hopes to show that he’s ready to make the jump to the NHL.
“I think so; I hope so,” he said after skating with the first group in Friday’s one-ice session. “I just have to prove it to the new guys and I have to prove it to myself, too.”
McIlrath said he rehabbed his knee for 30 minutes before every workout this summer and has been working on his leg strength to ensure the injury does not happen again.
Now that he’s fully able to compete for a job, he knows making the opening-day roster will be tough, especially considering the organizational depth on defense.
“I’m going to have to win a spot,” McIlrath said. “If I make the team, I’m going to have to beat a really good player out.”
JT Miller, who "tweaked" his hamstring Thursday during conditioning laps, appeared to re-aggravate the injury.
The 20-year-old prospect left the ice early again on Friday with the same issue. His availability for Saturday is not immediately known.
The 36-year-old backup is listed among the group of players slated to take the ice in the third session Friday afternoon.
It's interesting to note, however, that ex-Devils goaltender Johan Hedberg is also still slated to skate Friday. Hedberg, who backed up Martin Brodeur in New Jersey the past three seasons, joined the Rangers in training camp after signing a professional tryout with the club.
Asked Thursday, Hedberg said he didn't know what to make of the audition, but knew it was an opportunity he was "excited" to explore.
J.T. Miller also appears to be OK after leaving the ice during conditioning laps Thursday with what coach Alain Vigneault said was a "tweaked hamstring."
Miller is also expected to skate with Biron and the third group.
Stepan's camp has maintained that he will not report to camp without a contract, and the 23-year-old restricted free agent remains unsigned. The Rangers play their first preseason game on Monday against the Devils.
Stepan's good friend and teammate Ryan McDonagh said he has been in touch with him and has instructed him to stay positive. McDonagh said he's "confident" the situation will be resolved and that Stepan will be embraced with "open arms."
Biron is absent due to what a team spokesperson described Wednesday as "personal reasons." He is not listed among the five goaltenders slated to take the ice with the fourth group this afternoon.
In Biron's absence, Ex-Devil Johan Hedberg will skate with Henrik Lundqvist and the team's goaltending prospects. Hedberg signed a professional tryout to join the Rangers in training camp.
Although the exact reason for Biron's absence is not immediately known, a source told ESPNNewYork.com that he is expected to return to New York soon, possibly as early as Thursday, when the team has its first day on the ice.
In wake of Biron's absence, former Devils netminder Johan Hedberg is attending camp on a professional tryout (PTO). Hedberg was actually one of two goaltenders the Rangers expressed interest in to back up Henrik Lundqvist during free agency in the summer of 2010.
Asked about Biron, new Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said he's "not exactly sure" how long Biron is expected to miss.
Back in action: Looking to bolster the offense, the Rangers recalled Chris Kreider from the AHL Wednesday. The 21-year-old rookie hasn’t been able to replicate the success he had last spring with a terrific NHL debut in the playoffs, but he recently registered six goals in eight games in the minors. Fourth-line tough guy Micheal Haley was sent down to the Connecticut Whale to make room for Kreider.
Rookie Race: With 12 goals and 7 assists, Panthers rookie Jonathan Huberdeau is second among league rookies in scoring, only behind Tampa Bay’s Cory Conacher, who has 22 points. Huberdeau scored a goal on his first shot of his first NHL game and ended up finishing with three points after adding a pair of assists as well.
Lundqvist “fine”: Although Henrik Lundqvist complained about headaches following a collision in Tuesday’s 3-2 win over New Jersey and did not practice with the Rangers during Wednesday’s optional skate, coach John Tortorella says the reigning Vezina Trophy winner is “fine.” Lundqvist went down in the crease after being clipped in the mask, although it was his own teammate, defenseman Dan Girardi, who knocked into him. Unfortunately for the Devils, New Jersey’s Travis Zajac was penalized on the play.
Stepan up: Centering the team’s “second” line -- which has played much more like a first -- Derek Stepan has elevated his game of late. The 22-year-old has registered a point in each of the last two games, although his play with linemates Carl Hagelin and captain Ryan Callahan extends beyond what is reflected on the scoresheet.
On the mend: Rangers team president and general manager Glen Sather will undergo surgery for prostate cancer in New York on Thursday, a source confirmed to ESPNNewYork.com. In the interim, assistant GM Jeff Gorton will assume day-to-day operations of the team. Gorton represented the organization at the NHL’s GM meetings on Toronto on Wednesday.
With a 4-1 win over the Capitals on Sunday, the Rangers played their 24th game of a lockout-shortened 48-game 2013 season. How do the Blueshirts look at the halfway point? ESPNNewYork.com's Katie Strang breaks it down with her mid-season report card:
Adding a star like Rick Nash to a team that finished with the best regular-season record in the Eastern Conference last year only heightens expectations. And although the Rangers are beginning to look like the team that grinded and gritted its way to the Eastern Conference finals last spring, we still haven't seen their best yet. But all hope is not lost, as it took a solid six weeks for the team to find their groove last season. The biggest question is whether the Rangers can re-assert their rugged, hard-nosed style of play that made them one of the toughest teams to beat last year. Even in a compressed schedule, there is still time.
Nash has lived up to his billing as the type of elite player that can push a team to the next level, and that's never been more apparent than now. Sidelined with an injury for four games last month, Nash has been on fire since returning to the lineup. The big man has registered 11 points (six goals, five assists) in the six games he's been back, and his presence completely changes the dynamic of the offense. He's helped jump-start the team and some of its top performers, namely Brad Richards, who snapped a 15-game goal drought last week. However, the team is still seeking more from Richards and Marian Gaborik, who have solid numbers but can be invisible at times. Averaging only 2.54 goals per game, the Rangers need better production from the entire supporting cast (case in point: Brian Boyle) if they are to remain in the playoff picture.
Boasting three of the best defenseman on their blue line in Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh and Marc Staal, the Rangers have been pretty stout in their own end. They rank sixth in the league in goals against with 2.33 per game and have received significant contributions from guys like Michael Del Zotto and Anton Stralman as well. Otherwise relatively healthy, the team did suffer a blow to their back end in losing Staal to an eye injury, although it is not believed to be career or season-threatening.
Yes, the power-play has improved, as of late, but the unit has been abysmal through too many significant stretches this season. Ranked dead-last in the league at times, the Rangers (23rd, 15%) still lack a true power-play specialist and you can bet that a right-handed defenseman that plays the PP will be a top priority as the trade deadline approaches. The team's penalty kill has been pretty good, especially considering the personnel lost from last season. Without Brandon Prust, Brandon Dubinsky, Ruslan Fedotenko and Artem Ansimov, the Rangers still rank 12th in league with an 83.3% success rate. Adding versatile fourth-liner Darroll Powe was a shrewd move for the front-loaded Rangers, as was the signing of veteran center Jeff Halpern. Both players help to fill the void left by the departure of some of the team's "glue guys" from last season.
It's hard to top last season for Henrik Lundqvist, but the reigning Vezina Trophy winner has remained steady for the Blueshirts. With an 11-8-1 record on the season, Lundqvist is eighth in the league with a .921 save percentage and 10th with 2.24 goals against average. The 31-year-old Swede , still seeking his first shutout of the season, hasn't stolen games like he did last year but he's still been very consistent for a team that hasn't always bailed him out with much offense. Backup Martin Biron has also been solid in relief, with a 2-1-1 record, .923 save percentage and 2.18 goals against average.
Granted, the lockout robbed him of conducting his notoriously-difficult training camp regimen, but coach John Tortorella still doesn't seem happy with the team's level of mental and physical conditioning. Some of that is circumstance. Some of that is the players themselves. But he takes some responsibility as well. Tortorella still has some challenges ahead handling some of the team's struggling stars in the streaky Gaborik and Richards, but he's still one of the top coaches in the league with his ability to coax the most out of his players.
All tied up: With the ice tilting for the visiting team, winger Carl Hagelin steadied the Rangers with the tying goal in the second period -- a scoring play that was upheld after a lengthy video review. Hagelin’s second-period power-play marker was his fourth goal in three games, fifth of the season.
Major momentum swing: Trailing 2-0 after the first period, the Islanders rallied back in the second with three goals on four shots. Colin McDonald sparked the Isles with a goal 29 seconds into the period and star center John Tavares tied the game at 2 at 6:45, extending his goal-scoring streak to four games. When Brad Boyes notched the team’s third of the period, the Garden crowd turned on former Islander Martin Biron, chanting for the return of starter Henrik Lundqvist.
MIA: Veteran center Brad Richards, usually a vital cog on the team’s first power-play unit, was absent during a critical man advantage in the third period. He didn’t play with the first or second unit during the unsuccessful attempt. The apparent benching continued throughout the third. Richards played one shift with Gaborik and Rick Nash early in the period, but did not see the ice after that for the rest of regulation. Tortorella, who identified the former Conn Smythe Trophy winner as one of the guys on the team that needed to play better before the game, had Richards out there to take the opening faceoff in overtime.
Not much help: Granted, the numbers for both Evgeni Nabokov and Rick DiPietro have been downright unsightly, but the former got little help in front Thursday night. The most glaring instance came on the Rangers’ second goal, which resulted from an absolutely brutal giveaway by Andrew MacDonald. Ryan Callahan stripped MacDonald and Marian Gaborik notched his seventh goal of the season after burying a rebound on the Rangers’ third shot of the sequence for a 2-0 lead at 11:28.
Been a while: Arron Asham’s first-period scrap with Islanders tough guy Erik Boulton was the Rangers' first fighting major in eight games. The Rangers led all teams in fighting majors last season with 65.
Boyle returns: Scratched for the previous three games, 28-year-old center Brian Boyle returned to the lineup for the Rangers Thursday. Winger Chris Kreider was a healthy scratch, as was defenseman Stu Bickel.
Boyle is back: Rangers forward Brian Boyle is back in the lineup after being scratched the past three games. The 6-foot-7 center, whose struggles earned him a benching by coach John Tortorella, said he’s excited to play and prove he can still contribute: “I know I can play better and I’m going to.” To make room for him on the roster, winger Chris Kreider will be a healthy scratch.
Familiar face: Rangers backup netminder Martin Biron will get the start against his former team Thursday. Biron is 21-4-1 in 28 career games played against the Islanders.
Tavares taking the lead: Leading the way for the Islanders is star center John Tavares. The former first overall pick in the 2009 draft enters Thursday’s game on a three-game goal-scoring streak. The 22-year-old also has seven goals in the last eight games and ranks second among NHL forwards with an average 22:05 of ice time, only behind New Jersey’s Ilya Kovalchuk.
Rookie sensation: Rangers prospect J.T. Miller hopes to replicate the success he had the last time he faced the Islanders at Madison Square Garden. The 19-year-old tallied twice in his Garden debut, only his second NHL game, and has a lot riding on Thursday’s contest. The rivalry match against the Islanders will be Miller’s fifth NHL game, after which the Rangers must decide whether to keep him around or send him back to their AHL affiliate in Connecticut. Miller playing in his 6th game would trigger the first year of his entry-level contract.
Goaltending woes: Too bad the Islanders’ trade for Tim Thomas was nothing more than a salary cap transaction. Honestly, they could use the former Vezina Trophy winner between the pipes. Neither starter Evgeni Nabokov (4-5-1, .897, 3.00) or backup Rick DiPietro (0-2-0, .842, 4.60) have save percentages above .900 and the Islanders currently rank 29th in the league with goals against per game (3.58).
Special teams: One of the bright spots of the season for the Islanders has been the success of their special teams. They rank third in the league on the penalty-kill (89.5%) and sixth in the league on the power-play (25.5%)
It's a relief for Boyle, who said last week that he found the benching "infuriating." The 28-year-old center said he's excited to be back and is anxious to prove he can still contribute to this team.
"I know I can play better and I'm going to," he said after the team's morning skate in Westchester.
Boyle, held to one point in nine games this season, said he needs to create more offense and be sharper on the penalty kill. His production has faltered in the first quarter of the season, he admitted, but his work ethic hasn't been lacking.
"I work as hard as I can," he said. "Jump has never been an issue."
Despite concerns about Boyle's penalty-killing performance and shot-blocking this season, coach John Tortorella has repeatedly expressed faith in the hulking forward. As recently as Wednesday, Tortorella called Boyle a "good player" who is still expected to play an important role with the team.
"It is nice to know that they think I can be an effective player," Boyle said. "If they don't, I'm going to prove them wrong."
While Boyle centered a third line with Taylor Pyatt and J.T. Miller during the morning skate, Chris Kreider skated as an extra defenseman. It appears Kreider will be the healthy scratch at forward vs. the Islanders.
Goaltender Martin Biron was first off the ice, a good indication that he will start against his former team on Thursday.
GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- With reigning Vezina Trophy winner Henrik Lundqvist in net, the Rangers don’t want to deviate from the plan.
With a shortened 48-game season the result of a lockout that spanned almost four months, neither Lundqvist or his backup, Martin Biron, will get anywhere close to the number of starts they have grown used to from years past.
But the approach from last season remains the same: Use Lundqvist enough to establish a rhythm while resting him in strategic spots to allow him time to fine-tune his mechanics and recharge the batteries.
The 30-year-old netminder is coming off his best season yet, one that helped lead the Rangers to the Eastern Conference finals. Lundqvist racked up 39 wins while posting a 1.97 goals-against average and a .930 save percentage during the regular season.
He also did that while playing six games fewer -- 62 of 82 -- than any of the five previous seasons, a span during which he averaged 70.6 games per year.
The 35-year-old Biron, regarded as one of the most reliable backups in the league, posted a 12-6-2 record in 20 starts.
“The same philosophy will go into it,” coach John Tortorella said. “We felt it helped Marty, it helped the team, and more importantly, it helped Hank in terms of getting proper practice time with [goalie coach Benoit Allaire] and not just relying on continually playing.”
Like all NHL players who are seeing their normal training camp schedules compressed into a week or less, Lundqvist faces the challenge of getting into game shape by the season opener on Saturday, Jan. 19.
Without any preseason games on the schedule, however, goaltenders may endure the most steep curve in trying to return to form.
Lundqvist, who opted not to play overseas during the lockout, has not played an NHL game since May 25 -- the team’s 3-2 overtime loss to the Devils in the Eastern Conference finals.
“That’s a unique position,” Tortorella said. “I would think preseason games would help them more. But all the goalies -- the 60-plus goalies (in the league) -- they don’t have it. I have full faith in what Hank does, what Marty does and what Ben does with that. He’ll be ready to play.”
The last live-game action Lundqvist has seen outside of practice with his Rangers teammates was during a charity hockey game in Atlantic City, N.J., in November. He wasn’t feeling too rusty then; he made 57 saves.
“When it comes to the game situations, you just need to play and get minutes to feel comfortable,” Lundqvist said. "The biggest challenge is getting to a level where you feel really comfortable and are making good decisions.
“Normally, I feel like I need a couple of games until my game is where it should be. I’m going to do whatever I can here to reach that level as soon as possible, but I’m sure it’s going to take a few games at least before you feel great.”
It also elicited a response from his own players.
"I like the fact that he is passionate about the players on this team," veteran Mike Rupp said. "I think it goes a long way in this room."
Tortorella ripped Orpik for his third-period knee-to-knee hit on Rangers' center Derek Stepan, calling it "cheap" and "dirty," and said players' lack of respect for each other is "sickening."
Stepan's injury does not appear to be too serious, but with Orpik looking like he will escape any supplementary discipline for the play, the Rangers can take some comfort in knowing he wasn't let off the hook completely.
Having been on the receiving end of plenty of Tortorella's outbursts, they know it's not the most pleasant experience.
"It just show his passion for the team and his passion for winning," said defenseman Ryan McDonagh. "He's been intense with us and honest the whole time. What he's saying to us, he's saying to you guys. There's no games with him."
After the game, goaltender Martin Biron said he considered going after Orpik. But his coach took care of that instead, and then some. Tortorella also called out the Penguins as an "arrogant organization" and lambasted their two star players Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby for their "whining."
His choice words may have ruffled feathers in Pittsburgh, but they had a galvanizing effect in the Rangers' locker room.
"You're a team, a family, an organization," Biron said. "Everybody feels like we want to back one another, and the coach being on the players' side is definitely something you want. He would go to war for anyone in this locker room and I think that the same goes [for us]."