HARTFORD – NEW YORK: THE CONNECTION
There was a telling moment between head coach Alain Vigneault and star goalie Henrik Lundquist at the New York Rangers practice yesterday.
Vigneault’s new, up tempo, rapid fire system came under fire early on as the Rangers struggled under the weight of a season opening nine game road trip while the finishing touches were put on the renovations to Madison Square Garden. As is usually the case when things are going bad the most noticeable player on the ice is the goaltender. Lundquist acknowleged as much. You give up one bad goal and lose, no one remembers the two dozen brilliant saves you may have made. The critisism of both Vigneault and Lundquist has waned considerably as the Rangers have righted themselves back to the .500 mark and moved within four points of first place in the Metro Division.
Tuesday night offered something of a reversal of Lundquist’s theory. The Rangers beat the Devils 3-2 and the only goal Vigneault brought into play was the Devils’ second, calling it a “routine save”, an obvious critisism of his bread and butter between the pipes. It rolled right off Lundquists back.
Make no mistake about it, New York Rangers success works from the goal line out and Lundquist is the man. But the moment between coach and goalie was also an indication of the new comfort zone Vigneault has at the position. Next up for the Rangers, Saturday night at the Bell Center in Montreal, which has tended to be something of a house of horrors for Lundquist. Vigneault could always opt for Plan B when the Rangers get to Montreal. That would be Cam Talbot, who just a month ago was in net for the Hartford Wolf Pack, for whom he was Plan A for most of last season.
During his tenure in Hartford talbot found himself a frequent visitor to New York, where he’d have a cup of coffee before coming back to Hartford. This time it looks like he may stick. Talbot has distinquished himself as injuries or a needed rest have given him four opportunities as the alternative to Lundquist and Vigneault shows no concern about putting him in in situations that haven’t worked well for Lundquist in the past, even tipping his hand on splitting the time in net on back to back nights.
In an indirect way Cam Talbot is the reason we’ve been able to keep a Connecticut treasure in Hartford as long as we have. Make no mistake about it, the Rangers organization has great respect for the head coach of the Wolf Pack, Ken Gernander. Current Rangers players like Ryan Callahan, Chris Kreider, Marc Staal, Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh are former Gernander students while others, like P.A. Parenteau, Jason LeBarbera and Al Montoya brought value to the organization in other ways.
Gernander’s record for developing players ranks high with the Rangers brass, who love his solid work ethic and hard nosed approach to conveying messages to young players. Since Talbot moved up goaltending has become a problem for the Wolf Pack, giving up 14 goals in their last two games. It falls on Gernander and his staff to develop the next backstop worthy of a move up.
That’s the way it goes for local hockey fans, who get to watch these players in their formative stage. Who knows who the next big star developing in Hartford is? Next chance to find out, tomorrow night.
With a comment from the sports world, I’m Scott Gray.