Staying healthy and regaining confidence are two keys in Matthew Lombardi's quest for an NHL comeback with the Rangers.
The 32-year-old center has had an unfortunate run. With Nashville in 2010-11, he missed 80 regular-season games and 12 playoff games with a concussion. The following season with Toronto, he missed 18 games with an arm injury. After the lockout was settled, he missed 14 games with an upper-body injury with Anaheim.
After playing last season in Switzerland, where he had 20 goals and 50 points in 46 games for Geneve-Servette HC, Lombardi accepted a two-year, $1.6-million offer from the Rangers, who are auditioning centers, for a slot that would include playing on the penalty kill.
"He's played under [current assistant coach Ulf Samuelsson] in Phoenix," coach Alain Vigneault said. "He has a lot of speed, real quick on transition, can kill penalties, can fill a role. For a couple years, he was on the injured side, but he had a real good season. People that our scouts talked to said he got his confidence back. He's a player that has proven he can play at this level in the past."
With the Flames, he scored between 14 and 20 goals in three of five seasons, and he had 19 in 2009-10 for Phoenix.
In the preseason opener against the Devils at the Garden Monday night, Adam Henrique beat Cam Talbot on a long wrister with 51.7 to play in regulation for a 5-4 Devils win. Ryan Malone, Carl Hagelin, Chris Kreider and Jesper Fast scored for the Rangers, who erased a 4-2 deficit late in the third.
Lombardi was one of three centers dressing Monday night who weren't on the Rangers' roster last season, including rookie Kevin Hayes out of Boston College and Chris Mueller, who played for the AHL Texas Stars. He said that going overseas "wasn't what I had planned, but it was good for my family and myself . . . to get some confidence, find my game. Prior to last year, there were a lot of bumps in the road."
With his speed and experience shorthanded, Lombardi could very well be a fit on Vigneault's squad, which values skating and an up-tempo pace.
"My decision to come back was getting this opportunity, coming to a good team, a winning team," said Lombardi, who had modest goals for his first appearance in blue. "I know I can still play and obviously contribute, just doing what's made me successful, getting back to game speed and the physical play."