Rangers will miss Ryan Callahan's gritty leadership
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GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- Less than a week into the season, Ryan Callahan was sporting a dark shiner under his right eye.
"Now I look like a hockey player," the Rangers captain said.
The bruise was hardly necessary to make that statement. More than any other player, Callahan epitomizes the black-and-blue identity that has crept into the hockey psyche of the Rangers over the past few seasons. The 27-year-old right wing battles in the corners, blocks shots, and stands his ground in the crease -- and sometimes out of it, as was evidenced in the third period at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night.
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Deciding that the Flyers, trailing 2-0, had taken enough liberties, he started grappling with Max Talbot to the right of the net, a scrap that ended with Talbot yanking Callahan's left arm. Talbot heard something pop and let him drop to the ice.
Callahan is no stranger to injuries -- he broke his hand and his ankle during the 2010-11 season. This time, he didn't even think about going to the bench. Hunched over and grimacing, he skated off the ice, favoring his left shoulder, and didn't return. As it turned out, after an MRI on Wednesday, Callahan only will miss 10 days to two weeks with a dislocated shoulder. In the eyes of his teammates, it was perhaps the best diagnosis possible in the uncertain landscape of a 48-game season.
On paper, his contributions are tangible. The Rochester native, who rose through the Rangers organization since being drafted in the fourth round in 2004, scored 29 goals and had 54 points last season, 13 of the goals on the power play, and blocked 88 shots, all career highs. He was 6-4-10 in the playoff run to the conference finals. Tuesday night's goal in the 2-1 victory was his 200th career point.
But stats aren't the only barometer.
In the days leading up to the opening of training camp, when defenseman Michael Del Zotto, 22, was still trying to negotiate a contract, the captain offered counsel. "Cally told me to stay focused on getting in shape and not worry, that this is a business," Del Zotto said.
Derek Stepan said: "Since I've been here, that's two full seasons, he's been a key part of everything we do."
To illustrate the impact of his absence on the ice, coach John Tortorella pointed out how the Rangers sagged against the Flyers after Callahan left.
"I don't think you fill his role,'' Tortorella said. "I felt that in the third period when we were protecting the lead. That's a very big part of his game, so now, it has to come through the team. You lose a top guy like that, it shuffles the lineup and gives guys chances that they would not have gotten if he was here."
Against the Penguins on Thursday night, it appears that Taylor Pyatt will replace Callahan on the second line with Stepan and Carl Hagelin. Rick Nash will assume some of Callahan's penalty-kill minutes.
On the power play, where Callahan has two of the Rangers' three goals in 24 opportunities, some extra help could come from rookie Chris Kreider, who skated lightly for the first time since an MRI last week showed bone chips in his ankle after he blocked a shot on Jan. 5 while playing for the AHL Whale.
Marian Gaborik, who had surgery in June to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder and went through a long rehab before being cleared to skate in November, believes Callahan's recovery will be quicker.
"Mine wasn't as sudden," Gaborik said. "It was an ongoing thing for me during last season. He says it feels better, so hopefully it won't be long."
Said Brad Richards: "The mood around here is we want him back as soon as possible. He's a big part of the game: the penalty-kill, power play, five-on- five . . . We've got to push on."
That, of course, is Callahan's style.