Biron proving to be ideal backup for Rangers

Friday, 01.06.2012 / 2:16 PM / NHL Insider
By Dave Lozo - Staff Writer

Henrik Lundqvist wasn't a one-man show in New York during the previous five seasons, but he was the headliner of an off-Broadway production that didn't offer much of a supporting cast.

The 29-year-old took over the No. 1 goaltender job with the Rangers in 2006 and averaged 70 starts during the next five seasons. That didn't leave much playing time for the team's primary backup goaltenders.

* Kevin Weekes made 12 starts in 2006-07
* Steven Valiquette made 10 starts in 2007-08
* Valiquette made 12 starts in 2008-09
* Valiquette made 5 starts, Chad Johnson made 4 in 2009-10

In 2011-12, Biron is finally giving Lundqvist the support that's been missing.

Through 38 games, Biron has made 10 starts. He's 8-2-0 with a 2.06 goals-against average and .922 save percentage. With the Rangers playing a hectic schedule to open the season -- two weeks in Europe and nearly a month on the road between September and October while Madison Square Garden was under renovations -- Biron has been a reliable option for coach John Tortorella.

"The greatest thing about Marty is he's such a great teammate," Tortorella told reporters earlier this season. "He keeps the room loose. He's a veteran guy that understands his role, which is very important. And he's won games. Look at his record since he's been with us. It's too bad he got hurt last year. He would've played more."

Biron has been at his best when the Rangers are in the midst of back-to-back games. As a team, the League-leading Rangers are 9-0-2 in those games this season with the second half of a back-to-back set for Friday night in Pittsburgh. Biron is 4-0-0 with a 1.23 GAA and .949 save percentage in those contests.

With Biron on pace to make about 21 starts, that puts Lundqvist on a pace for about 61. For a goaltender that has historically seen his numbers weaken once the playoffs begin, those 61 starts could be the magical number for a deep playoff run.

The last goaltender to make at least 70 starts in the regular season and win the Stanley Cup was Martin Brodeur, who made 73 starts for the New Jersey Devils in 2003. One look at recent Cup winners shows less in the regular season means more in the postseason:

* Tim Thomas made 55 starts for the Bruins last season
* Antti Niemi made 35 starts for the Blackhawks in 2009-10
* Marc-Andre Fleury made 61 starts for the Penguins in 2008-09, the most of any goalie to win the Cup since Brodeur in 2003
* Chris Osgood and Dominik Hasek both made 40 starts for the Red Wings in 2007-08

The backup goaltender has meant more than ever since the 2005-06 season, and the Rangers look like they finally have one on which they can rely.

"If I wasn't surrounded by the people that are surrounding me right now, Henke (Henrik Lundqvist), Benny (Rangers goaltending coach Benoit Allaire), the rest of the guys willing to put in the work before and after practice, it would be a challenge," Biron told reporters of his backup role. "But it works. It's been a situation where I've been able to get the best out of the people around me and they get the best out of me, and we keep on working toward bigger and better goals. I think the people in place to set up the schedule, to put a plan together and stick to that plan, are the ones that have to be recognized for it."