is purring along like a fine-tuned automobile. And his teammates are enjoying the ride.
The Philadelphia Flyers’ goalie has played every minute of his team’s 6-1 start. He’s tied for the NHL lead in wins, is third with a 1.57 goals-against average and second with a .952 save percentage and two shutouts.
Those whitewashings came in back-to-back games last week, twin 4-0 decisions over the Atlanta Thrashers and New Jersey Devils, during which he stopped 69 shots. He ran up a 143:20 shutout streak as he chauffeured the Flyers to the top of the Atlantic Division, and earned himself NHL First Star of the Week honors.
Biron is puttering around these days in a vintage muscle car, a 1969 Camaro Z28 which was a 30th birthday present in August from his wife. The car needed some extra detail work, which included installing a new black leather interior and painting the exterior black and orange. The sweet ride arrived just before the Flyers left for their season-opening road trip through western Canada, so he’s been itching to jump behind the wheel.
“It’s definitely something fun to drive around,” he said. “It’s a very nice piece that my wife found with her dad in Buffalo this summer, so we got it all ready to go. On the nice days here in Philadelphia where the sky is blue and (there’s) not too much snow I take it out for a spin. Definitely a lot of fun.”
The car will spend the next few days in the garage as the Flyers embarked Monday on an eight-game road trip, their longest of the season, but even without his new vehicle, he hopes to keep the team driving down the path to success.
It’s a road far smoother than the one he traveled last season when he first came to the Flyers. Acquired from the front-running Buffalo Sabres at the trade deadline, he plunged from the top of the standings to the distant, deep bottom.
“The mood last year when I got in was that there was hope,” he said, “(but) the confidence was a little fragile at times in games. … The guys were saying it was tough playing games and coming to the rink.”
Biron signed on for two more years with the Flyers, and watched General Manager Paul Holmgren turn the Flyers’ jalopy of a roster into what looked like a restored classic. But questions remained about how long it would take the Flyers to climb out of the abyss.
“I was a little curious this summer,” Biron said. “Everybody was talking how much better all the additions (would be). And I kept telling everybody; ‘Well, on paper it looks good, but you got to put it on the ice, too.’”
So far this season, thanks in large part to Biron’s play, the Flyers’ rebuilding effort has been shifted into fast-forward.
“When we showed up at (training) camp this year, that hope showed up in a goal-oriented team. It wasn’t as much as we were hoping for good results as we made that our focus and our goal. So the attitude definitely changed,” he said.
Biron also has been changing attitudes. When he first started in Buffalo, he had to sit behind Dominik Hasek. When he finally got his chance as a starter, the Sabres were going through a down period. Coming out of the lockout, when the team began playing better, he lost his starting job to Ryan Miller.
There were doubts that Biron could be the man to backstop the Flyers’ rebuilding effort. He’s enjoying proving those doubters wrong.
“It’s something that gives you a little bit more juice at times to go out and work and do the things that you know are going to make you successful,” he said. “It’s been a long time since I had that chance to say I was going to be doing that (leading a team). I was definitely looking forward to that. It (the doubting) was a little bit in the back of my mind, yes.”
|Biron makes a stick-save during Thursday's 4-0 shutout against the Devils.
While Biron has been the largest part of that changed attitude, he’s not the only player piloting the first-place Flyers.
Daniel Briere, Biron’s long-time friend and road roommate from their days together in Buffalo, leads the team with 11 points (four goals, seven assists) in his first seven games.
“I’ve played against Danny since the time I’ve been 16,” said Biron. “If you were to ask me three or four years ago who was the most dangerous player in the NHL – I mean, Mario (Lemieux) was in the league, there were a lot of good players – I would have said Danny Briere because he was one of the guys I could never stop. He would always score on me at every game we played against one another. He would get two or three some nights. He was just that kind of player.
“He’s got a flair for the net, got a flair for big-time goals He’s very competitive in practice, on the ice, during games, in the hotel room playing cards. That’s his nature. From the time he was 15 or 16 everybody kept saying he’ll never make it to juniors because he’s not big enough, he’ll never make it in pro because he’s not big enough. But he always did it.”
Also helping in the renaissance have been third-year centers Jeff Carter and Mike Richards. The 2003 first-round draft picks had underwhelming campaigns a year ago, but both have put those seasons in their rear-view mirrors.
Richards leads the team with five goals -- already half of his total from all of last season -- while Carter is tied for second with four.
“A year like last year can go either way,” he said. “You can take it and it could destroy you or can take it and really come out strong. I think they’ve taken it the positive way. They worked extremely hard this summer. They showed up to camp and they showed all through camp that they were ready and they were more mature and ready to take a bigger role. … They’re definitely two guys that need to be at the top of their games.”
Also helping Biron has been the defense in front of him. Usually chatty on the ice, Biron said it’s easier for him now to sit and watch players like Kimmo Timonen, Jason Smith and Derian Hatcher do their jobs. And they’ve done it so well the Flyers have cut their goals allowed per game average from a league-worst 3.62 last season to 1.71 through seven games, second only to Minnesota this year.
“They talk more than I do out there,” he said. “Most of the time I sit quiet and let them do their job.”
That opposite performance goes along with something on Biron’s new mask, “The Great Gaston.”
A riff on his middle name, he got together with an artist this summer to work on the design of what he called a cartoon character. The result looks slightly different than the 6-foot-3, 163-pound clean-shaven beanpole.
“We talked about it with the artist and he came up with a lumberjack that’s totally the opposite of me,” he said. “He’s a big, bearded guy with big muscles and looks terrifying, where I’m totally the opposite of that.”
On the mask, “The Great Gaston” is driving a flying Flyers logo. On the ice, Biron is driving the flying Flyers.
Maybe it’s not such an opposite after all.