Just after noon on Tuesday, forward Arron Asham and goaltender Martin Biron cleared waivers, which puts both players on a path to the New York Rangers AHL affiliate, the Hartford Wolf Pack. Though, on Monday, Biron said he will discuss the situation with his family and others before making his next step. That next step could even be retirement.
Meanwhile, forward J.T. Miller was back in a New York Ranger uniform, which is especially satisfying for Ranger fans after he impressed so many in training camp. And goaltender Cam Talbot, the new backup to starter Henrik Lundqvist, is getting acclimated to his new NHL surroundings. After spending the last few seasons minding the net for the Wolf Pack/Connecticut Whale, Talbot will now get a chance to show New York fans what he can do. Both players practiced with the team in Greenburgh before heading with the team to Washington. The Rangers play the Capitals on Wednesday night.
The Rangers are hoping by waiving the 36-year-old Biron and calling up the 26-year-old Talbot, they will get the stability in net they have been seeking so far this year. Maybe it might be the thing that really gets Henrik back on his game. And maybe, when he's not in the net, a more mobile Talbot will give the Blueshirts more of a chance to steal games when the King isn't starting. "I am happy to be on the big club and will try and give the guys a chance to win whenever I am in there. Hopefully when I get my chance I will do my best out there," said Talbot, who will wear the number 33.
But, the real message may have been sent by calling up Miller. Without naming names, three players are being called out for their lackluster play so far this season - Taylor Pyatt, Mats Zuccarello, and Benoit Pouliot. Miller has the scoring touch - something he was already displaying in Hartford with four goals in four games. That is not the case for Pyatt, Zuccarello, and Pouliot. All three forwards are capable of putting the puck in the net, but so far this season, they have not produced.
The Rangers signed Pyatt as an unrestricted free agent on July 3 last year. With his 6'4", 230 pound frame, he has been a help, especially in battles along the boards. In last year's lockout-shortened season, Pyatt scored 11 points (six of them goals) while playing all 48 games on the schedule. In 12 playoff games, he netted two goals and collected two assists. So far, this season, Pyatt has been scoreless through five games. He has a plus/minus of -6 and has only seven shots on goal in those five contests. Pyatt had been a mid-tier goal scorer throughout his career. He scored a career high of 23 goals with the Vancouver Canucks back in 2006-07. But, his goal scoring has dropped off since then and steadily so since 2010-11. He went from scoring 18 goals that year, to nine the next season (both with Phoenix), to six in the shortened season last year.
Mats Zuccarello is in his second stint with the Rangers. The team signed him in May 2010 on the heels of a great scoring campaign with Modo Hockey (23g, 44a in 55 games). The diminutive forward played 42 games for the Blueshirts in 2010-11, scoring six goals and adding 17 assists. For that season and the next, he would spend most of his time playing for the Whale. His scoring touch had not translated into scoring success on the NHL level. The 2012-13 season would find Zuccarello playing in Russia's KHL while the lockout went on. But, he would find his way back to Broadway when the NHL lockout ended. It was a different Zuccarello then the one Ranger fan got to know. He was more aggressive, more creative, and more effective. In 15 games last season, he scored eight points and earned a +10. In the playoffs, he would add a goal and six assists. But, so far, through five games this year, he is scoreless with a -2 and has only had five shots on goal in that time frame.
Benoit Pouliot's time with the Rangers only consists of these last five games, where he has gone scoreless in five games. He's a -3 so far with nine shots on goal. It's alarming for Pouliot, especially since he has spent time on the number one line. On July 5th, just three months ago, Pouliot signed with the Rangers, his fifth NHL team and fourth in the last four seasons. Minnesota made him the fourth overall pick in the 2005 Entry Draft and he made his NHL debut during the 2006-07 season. Pouliot has been seen as an inconsistent scorer, which has led to him going on his magical mystery tour. And so far, it seems the reputation has followed him here.
Now, enter Miller. He was sent down because of salary cap reasons. Now, he's being called up because his team needs a spark. "I didn't take it as offense," Miller told NY Daily News' Pat Leonard. "Wherever I'm playing I'm going to play hard and try to earn my spot regardless of what league I'm in, I thought I did OK. I wasn't very too opportunistic with the puck. I didn't make too much happen. I didn't feel I was a very big threat out there. I thought I could have been better."
Now, Miller has that chance. And it couldn't come at a better time. There is no timetable for the return of Rick Nash, who is still suffering from effects of his head injury sustained in San Jose last week. Also, the Rangers are still without Carl Hagelin for what may be another two weeks.
And Miller is not the only candidate Vigneault and his staff could have brought up from Hartford. Through four games this season, forward Danny Kristo has two goals and three assists for the Wolf Pack. Both of his goals were scored on the power play. The Rangers could have also given Chris Krieder another shot. So far, he has two goals and an assist for the Pack. He's second on the team with 12 shots on goal in the team's four games this season. In comparison, only two Rangers have more than 12 shots on goal - Brad Richards has 22 (and leads the team with four goals) and Brian Boyle, who has 16. Who's in third place in shots for the Broadway Blueshirts? It's a tie. Benoit Pouliot has nine shots in five games and Rick Nash had nine in three games prior to being concussed.
Of course, you can't get goals if you're not getting shots on goal. But, you also have to get the puck up the ice without giving it away and taking costly penalties. The Rangers are dead last in the NHL in team plus/minus with -15. The Blueshirts are also averaging 17 PIM per game. Only five teams have a higher average of penalty minutes so far this season - St. Louis (22.5), Florida (21.2), Montreal (20.4), Tampa Bay (18.2), and Philadelphia (17.9).
In other words, it will take more than one new skater or one new backup. It takes a total team effort - defense to offense to special teams - to turn this thing around. It's also worth noting defenseman Michael Del Zotto will not make the trip to Washington because he is currently sick with a flu virus. Justin Falk will make his second straight start on Wednesday.
All those who are down with Rangerstown will soon get a chance to see how much progress the team has made in the last few days. Maybe by the end of this regular season, this will be a playoff team. I guess the question is - who will actually be wearing a Ranger uniform if that happens?