As far as New York Rangers goaltenders go, Henrik Lundqvist ranks among the best in the history of the team. He is the only NHL goaltender ever to record 30+ wins in each of his first seven seasons and only the second Rangers goaltender (after Ed Giacomin from 1966-1970) to record back to back 30-win seasons. In addition, “King Henry,” as he is affectionately known, holds team records for games played by a goaltender in a single season with 73, and also holds the record for most shutouts by a goaltender at Madison Square Garden.
Henrik had a career season in 2011/2012, posting a record of 39-18-5 in 62 games, being named to the All-Star team for the third time in his career, and capping the season off by taking home the Vezina trophy, an award determined by the 30 NHL General Managers. The 30-year-old Swede ranked 4th in goals against average amongst all regularly-starting goaltenders with 1.97, and was 3rd in wins and goals against average.
Although Henrik enjoyed these personal successes on the ice last season, he could not have done it without the help of his team, and especially backup net minder Martin Biron. Considered one of the best options for a free agent backup goaltender this season, Biron’s supporting role for Lundqvist in 2011/2012 was second to none. In 20 starts last season, Biron recorded a record of 12-6-2, earning points for the Rangers in 70% of his games played.
What is more thought-provoking when it comes to Biron is his ability to quietly make a splash in the NHL. Last season, the 34-year-old backstop was grouped with the likes of Tuukka Rask, Josh Harding and Michal Neuvirth in terms of wins.
Biron was also ranked 36th in Goals against average among all NHL goaltenders, placing him in the company of Ryan Miller, Tomas Vokoun, Brayden Holtby, and Carey Price, all of whom are considered starting goaltenders for their respective teams; His save percentage was an acceptable .904, just short of Ondrej Pavelec’s at 9.06, and better than Chicago’s Cory Crawford’s mark of .903.
Despite the notable statistics Biron is capable of producing, many Rangers fans are uncertain about giving the former AHL All-Star more responsibility. Biron has been known on several occasions to have precarious starts to games, being scored on often within the first few minutes before settling down to play an unwavering game. This gives some the sense that Biron is a dawdling, over-aged backstop that should be taking a reduced role on the ice.
Biron, in his own right however, has been a major contributor to the teams he has played on. He has broken the 30-win mark three times in his professional career; in 1998/1999 with the Rochester American of the AHL, in 2001/2002 with the Buffalo Sabres, and again in 2007/2008 with the Philadelphia Flyers. He has shown time and time again that he can be an exceptional second goaltender who is willing to do whatever it takes for his team to succeed.
When Martin Biron was signed as a free agent by the Rangers on July 1, 2010, the intent was to have the experienced goalie provide support to Lundqvist when he was battling fatigue, soreness, or any other ailment. The strategy was working well, as Biron posted an 8-6-0 record in 15 starts with career highs in save % and GAA before breaking his collarbone during practice on February 28, 2011. Biron was forced to miss the remainder of the regular season, and the Rangers were constrained to call up inexperienced goaltender Chad Jonhson, who only played in one game for the NHL squad.
Lundqvist, then, had a colossal weight deposited on his shoulders, playing 69 games during the regular season and managing one win in five games in their Eastern Conference Quarter Final match against the Washington Capitals. The intense schedule, especially down the stretch, was too considerable for Lundqvist (or any goaltender) to overcome, and the Rangers made an early playoff exit.
The 2011/2012 season, however, brought the promise of a better season, and with Biron fully healed, he was able to be a greater contributor to the team. He played at key times during the regular season, allowing Lundqvist to rest up and prepare for a plethora of appearances down the stretch, as well as making a deep playoff run that fell just short of the mark last season.
It is essential that Rangers head coach John Tortorella rely more heavily on Martin Biron in order to make Henrik Lundqvist better. During his NHL career, Lundqvist has achieved a 92.5% save percentage when playing less than 70 games during the regular season. When playing 70 or more games in a season, however, his total drops to just over 91%. While this may not seem like a great deal, 575 regular season games were won by 1 goal last season and almost 60% of playoff games were one by the same margin.
Further supporting the need for Biron to play more regularly is Henrik Lundqvist’s goals against average. Again, when playing less than 70 games in a season, Hank posts an average of 2.16 goals against him per game. In the seasons that Henrik has played 70 or more games, snipers have beaten him an average of 2.345 times per game, an increase of over 8.5%.
What’s more, the Los Angeles Kings are proof that in today’s game, a goaltending duo does not need to accumulate 50 wins in a season in order to win the Stanley Cup. Kings goaltending tandem of Jonathans, Quick and Bernier, combined for only 40 wins last season, and had a combined record of 40-27-15 in the regular season. Bernier, the second stringer of the couple, made 5 of his 13 starts in February and March of 2012, making sure that if the Kings were to secure a playoff spot, front man Jonathan Quick would be ready. Blue Shirts head coach John Tortorella surely could use a similar system to his advantage.
Based on his previous experience, Biron could be better utilized by Tortorella by playing 5 to 10 games more next season without changing the team’s win percentage a great deal. During his 13 years in the NHL, Biron has played an average of almost 36 games per season, winning an average of 17.5 games each season. In his 38 games as a Ranger, he has lost only 12 in regulation time, sporting a GAA of 2.29 and a .913 save %.
Biron is ready to take a step forward and be a factor in the Rangers success in 2012/2013. He is fully capable of holding down the fort while Lundqvist takes time out to recuperate from grueling stretches of ice time in order to prepare for the post season. His successful career to date shows Biron can truly make a difference. He could be especially helpful in the last 20 games of the season for the Broadway Blue Shirts, and his support will only add to the Rangers efforts to bring the Stanley Cup back to the Liberty City in the near future.