The Unsung Hero

In baseball, some positions often are called “premium” or positions that can easily be “platooned.”  As an example, the 1986 Mets had a “platoon” at second base between Tim Teufel and Wally Backman (now, ironically, coaches within the Mets system).  It’s easy to get away with platoons at positions up the middle of the infield, and yet at catcher, a so-called “premium position,” there’s less guesswork.  Gary Carter was possibly one of the best defensive (not to mention offensive) catchers of his generation, and the Mets were lucky enough to have him.  At a premium position, it’s tougher to platoon since you technically need that strong play at every moment you can.  When Carter was hurt for a spell in ’86, Ed Hearn jumped in.  Hearn, though, was purely a “backup” catcher.  And there was technically enough offense to cover where he lacked in it.  Same goes for Barry Lyons the next season.  Or Todd Pratt and Jason Phillips when they, at one point or another, backed-up starter and All-Star Mike Piazza.

Hockey is different.  The elite goaltenders are few and far between, and more of the game hinges on their spectacular play.  They need to be smart, they need to be agile, and furthermore they need to combine all that to stand on their heads at times to make saves.  We’ve been fortunate that in the past, Mike Richter was one of those guys for the New York Rangers.  His back-up in the 1993-94 Stanley Cup run was Glenn Healy — a guy who could have by most standards been a starter someplace else.  As lucky as we Ranger fans are to have Henrik Lundqvist as our starter, it was a foregone conclusion that he needed a break every now and then, since a majority of the success of the team in 2010-11 was based on his performance.

Yes, hockey folks, a backup is just as a important for the goaltender spot on teams as their starter.  And luckily, the unsung hero of this 2011-12 team is none other than Marty Biron.  It’s comforting when your #1 goalie isn’t in the game that the backup can do a hell of a job not only filling in, but winning.

In baseball, the pitcher gets the stress of the whole win-loss thing, but some will argue that the W/L stat is one of the most overrated, while WHIP or ERA can provide a better picture.  In hockey though, much rides on the success and bulletproofness of a goalie.  Our King Henrik may be the guy we want starting every night, but John Tortorella has the right idea to give Biron the starts since theoretically, we’d rather save those crucial starts for the star goalie when it’s truly critical (like later in the season and in the playoffs).

The number of games Biron has started may skew the sample set a bit, but right now he’s sporting a 2.06 Goals-Against-Average (GAA), very respectable in its own right.  Our own Henke is according to the leaderboards fourth with 1.92 (the gold standard seems to be right around 1.90).  True Biron’s only played in 11 games, but it’s better to not give up many goals in those small amount of games, am I right?  As for others in this same position, the Boston Bruins have Tim Thomas and Tuukka Rask in almost a straight platoon, and very similar numbers.

I’m the only one who has thought that Marty Biron’s performance has gone above and beyond the call of duty.  Blueshirt Banter believes the Rangers are doing right with Henke and Biron. Tortorella gave his vote of confidence by starting Biron three out of seven games as late as last month, not only spelling the rumors of giving Henke regular rest, but to give Biron some credit that he’s doing a good job.  Lastly, the Rangers have a lot of depth — at many positions.  NHL.com has eight reasons why the Rangers are in first — depth is one of them, Marian Gaborik’s performance is another, but Biron’s performance has given them a comfort level that they can still lean on Lundqvist, but it’s not as evident as it has been.

It seems the recipe for a good hockey team is to have a strong net minder.  This much is true.  I make no bones that I watch this team with a lot of excitement and enthusiasm, and they portray that on the ice each night, even on crappy nights.   To me, though, Marty Biron is one of the reasons why they are performing the way they are.  Perhaps the stepping up of Ryan Callahan as the “true” captain of the team, the pressure of free agent signing Bradley Richards is nonexistent, and likewise the pressure off Henrik Lundqvist having to be on this A-game every single night is out the window.  Marty Biron deserves a lot of credit for why the Rangers are where they are right now, and hopefully it’s the base for the future of this team for the year as well.

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