GREENBURGH, N.Y - If you want to get technical, every hockey game is a test of character. For the Rangers, however, the degree of difficulty has become a lot more severe.
The Rangers enter Thursday night's home game against the Columbus Blue Jackets with two key players sidelined. Captain Ryan Callahan joined alternate captain Marc Staal on the injured list after he suffered a sprained left knee during Tuesday's 4-1 loss to the Nashville Predators at the Garden.
Callahan is out 4-6 weeks, and Staal (concussion) is sidelined indefinitely.
"The hockey gods are testing us," defenseman Ryan McDonagh said after practice at the MSG Training Center Wednesday. "The last few games we are not playing the way we're capable of and testing our will and determination is fair to say."
The Rangers certainly haven't helped themselves with three straight home losses to begin a nine-game homestand.
"You can't feel sorry for yourself," right wing Derek Dorsett said. "Every team goes through injuries. Everyone's got to pick up their socks a little bit and take on a little bit more of the workload.
"We've got to pull together. With Cally going down, and Staalie, [it] gives guys opportunities to get more minutes. That's when you've got to see what guys are made of."
His teammates agree.
"Staalie and Cally, those are big shoes to fill," defenseman Michael Del Zotto said. "It takes a group effort. It's not going to take one or two guys. Everyone's got to bear down in here, be better and help contribute."
Coach Alain Vigneault, who juggled the power-play and penalty-killing units during practice because of Callahan's absence, said the team's woes haven't come from a lack of effort.
"Injuries, combined with our record, will tell us a lot about our group and how we respond," he said. "As far as work ethic, practices, off-ice work, this group works as hard as any group I have been associated with. It hasn't translated to what I expect on the ice as far as performance and results."
Despite the disappointing start, the Rangers (15-16-1) are still in the playoff picture.
"That will be looking at the glass half full," Vigneault said. "We're still right in the hunt, which is very positive considering the dynamic of our team and the struggles."
Notes & quotes: The Rangers called up D Dylan McIlrath from Hartford. He will make his NHL debut Thursday night. McIlrath (6-5, 230 pounds), the team's No. 1 draft pick in 2010, had three goals and four assists with a team-high 115 penalty minutes in 24 games with the Wolf Pack . . . C Derick Brassard missed practice with a sore backside, but Vigneault said he should play Thursday night . . . Henrik Lundqvist will start in goal again.