Hartnett: Rangers In Assessment Mode As They Fight Through Slow Start
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‘Rangers Inside And Out’
By Sean Hartnett
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Following an appalling start to their 2013-14 season, the Rangers will be in our nation’s capital Wednesday night to test themselves against a familiar foe in the Washington Capitals.
Western Conference powerhouses manhandled the Blueshirts, sending them back East 1-4-0. The Rangers’ abysmal start forced the need for a rethink and a significant roster shakeup.
On Tuesday, the Rangers assigned 36-year-old goaltender Martin Biron and 35-year-old winger Arron Asham to Hartford of the AHL, recalling youthful bodies in goaltender Cam Talbot and forward J.T. Miller.
It’s a fresh start for the Rangers, who are traveling to familiar environs in Washington, New Jersey and Philadelphia — and then Detroit — before finally returning to Madison Square Garden on Oct. 28 to face the Montreal Canadiens in their long-awaited home opener.
In the meantime, the Rangers are recalling their memories of eliminating the Capitals in last season’s Eastern Conference quarterfinals.
LUNDQVIST EXCITED BY OVECHKIN CHALLENGE
All-world goalie Henrik Lundqvist and reigning Hart Trophy winner Alex Ovechkin have had their share of battles over the years.
“It’s a great challenge to play against one of the best players in the world,” Lundqvist said. “He has an aggressive style, comes hard, shoots from everywhere and a great shot. They’re a good team at home. We’ve had some great battles over the years. You hope to turn things around in Washington.”
Lundqvist noted that alternate captain Brad Richards has gotten off to a strong start and has clearly been one of the Rangers’ most consistent and effective forwards during the early days of the season, registering four goals and an assist.
“It’s always important to get everybody going. Richie’s been looking really good and strong out there. That’s good for us. You need that. Right now, you need everyone to help out,” Lundqvist said. “Sometimes you go stretches where you have to work a little extra hard to get that extra point, or get that goal or save. Right now, we’re in that zone where you just have to give it all, all the time.”
LUNDQVIST SADDENED BY BIRON DEMOTION
Biron was a very well-liked teammate and popular personality inside the locker room during his time in New York. Lundqvist said he was particularly sorry to see Biron demoted to Hartford.
“It’s sad to see Marty go,” Lundqvist said. “I got to know him really well over the years and had a great relationship.”
Lundqvist said he has noticed Talbot looking sharp during training camp and practices.
“He’s been around now for a few years. I’ve got to know him a little bit. He’s a great goalie, a great guy. I look forward to working with him,” Lundqvist said. “He’s definitely going to push me. He’s looking sharp out there.”
“Hopefully, we can push each other to do really well,” Lundqvist added.
BIRON CONSIDERING HIS OPTIONS, RETIREMENT POSSIBLE
The Rangers are allowing Biron all the time he needs to consider his future. Both he and Asham went through waivers unclaimed. Asham immediately reported to Hartford, while Biron was carefully considering all of his options before deciding whether to join up with the Wolf Pack.
Biron is at an age when many goaltenders find it difficult to maintain their level of consistency. He enjoyed a fruitful career in Buffalo, Philadelphia, on Long Island and with the Rangers. Heading into training camp, Biron was expected to hold down his role as the Rangers’ backup netminder. That was until coach Alain Vigneault declared an open competition with tryout goalie Johan Hedberg, then later the emerging Talbot.
Vigneault stated during training camp that he wants goalies who can handle the demands of playing more than 20 games. At 36, Biron had too much tread on his tires to handle an increased workload in a season that also requires Lundqvist to participate for Sweden in the Sochi Olympics.
Biron relieved Lundqvist in the 9-2 blowout loss to the San Jose Sharks, giving up five goals against on 16 shots. On Saturday in St. Louis, he received the hook from Vigneault after giving up four goals on 17 shots. Lundqvist replaced Biron to start the third period and the Rangers went on to lose 5-3.
In two games, Biron posted a 7.65 goals-against average and .763 save percentage.
It’s entirely possible that Biron could opt to retire instead of playing out the remainder of his final contract year in the AHL.
TALBOT EXCITED TO WORK CLOSELY WITH LUNDQVIST
Talbot, 26, has plenty of AHL seasoning, but has yet to play an NHL regular season game.
Talbot said he is excited by the opportunity to study Lundqvist closely, and eager to learn from the former Vezina Trophy winner.
“Just to sit back a watch Hank, it’s fun to watch to be honest with you,” Talbot said. “As a young goalie coming up in ranks and never really being at this level until now, to be able to learn from a guy like that — it’s hugely-beneficial to me.
“Every day in practice, I’m going watch him and learn, try to progress and try to get his level at some point,” Talbot added with a chuckle.
Talbot also took the time to acknowledge Biron’s kindness to him over the years.
“Marty is a great guy off the ice and on the ice,” Talbot said. “He’s one of the nicest guys I’ve met off the ice, too. He was always friendly. We went out to dinner a few times, picked his brain a little bit. He’s got so much knowledge and so much experience at this level. He was a guy that had no problem passing it along. I wish him all the best.”
ALLAIRE PUSHED FOR TALBOT’S PROMOTION TO THE NHL
Rangers goaltending coach Benoit Allaire was constantly in Vigneault’s ear, pushing for Talbot to receive a call up to the NHL.
“On the goaltender position, I trust Benoit Allaire,” Vigneault said. “That’s a position there where the coach and the goaltender have a real special rapport. In Cam’s case, Benoit has been saying to me for quite some time that he feels he’s ready. (Cam) said throughout training camp that he was ready to take the next step. We gave him some games (in the preseason), he played well.”
IT’S ‘MILLER TIME’ – AGAIN
Miller, a 20-year-old forward, was recalled from Hartford on Tuesday. The Rangers are hoping that he will give their offense a boost as he scored four goals in three games for the Wolf Pack.
Vigneault said positive reports about Miller’s play from assistant general managers Jeff Gorton and Jim Schoenfeld, factored into the decision to bring Miller back to the big club.
“We got some great scouting reports,” Vigneault said. “Schoenfeld was at the games, Gorton was at two of the games. The coaching staff over there said that he played real well. That’s why he’s up.”
Vigneault said he is intrigued by Miller’s upside. He believes that Miller has the ability to push for a top six forward spot and a role on the power play.
“I see him with a good skill set, I see him with some offensive potential,” Vigneault said. “We have some players right now that are getting a real good opportunity to show what they can do — some guys are getting top six forward minutes, they’re getting power play time. Some guys’ production is not where it needs to be to stay in one of those spots in the long term. They’re aware of that. I don’t have to mention any names. He would be one of the possibilities of moving up if people don’t produce.”
Miller said isn’t getting carried away with his promotion, adding he understands what required of him to remain at the NHL level.
“You have to make sure that you’re always having a sense of urgency when you’re playing, and can’t take anything for granted,” Miller said.
VIGNEAULT LEAVING EXTRA ROSTER SPOT OPEN FOR NOW
Vigneault will have to make due without scoring ace Rick Nash, who remains on the injured reserve with a head injury. Nash did not practice on Tuesday. He did not travel with the team to Washington and the timetable for his return is unclear.
The Rangers are currently carrying an open roster spot while Nash is away. Vigneault stated that he is not making any further roster decisions until after Wednesday’s game in Washington.
“We want to focus on Washington,” Vigneault said. “We’ve got four lines right now, we’ve got six healthy defensemen and that’s what we’re going to Washington with.”
Vigneault, however, did hint that a move could be coming. Chris Kreider and Danny Kristo have both enjoyed success at Hartford. Kristo has two goals and three assists in four games, while Kreider has two goals and an assist in four games.
Meanwhile, defensive specialist forward Darroll Powe, who enjoyed a strong preseason, could serve as a solidifying presence on the Rangers’ lower lines should he be recalled.
“After Washington, we’re gonna re-evaluate, see where we are and see what we need to do,” Vigneault said.
DEL ZOTTO MISSES WASHINGTON TRIP DUE TO FLU
Defenseman Michael Del Zotto did not practice on Tuesday and did not board Tuesday’s flight to Washington with the rest of his teammates.
It was confirmed on Wednesday that Del Zotto did not make a late trip to Washington. He did not practice with the Rangers on Wednesday morning.
He could be back for Saturday’s rivalry matchup against the New Jersey Devils in Newark.
Follow Sean on Twitter @HartnettHockey
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