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Callahan's absence leaves Rangers in tough spot

Friday, 10.18.2013 / 11:15 AM / NHL Insider

By Adam Kimelman - NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

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Callahan's absence leaves Rangers in tough spot
The Rangers lost Ryan Callahan and now must figure out how to survive the next month minus their captain.

Ryan Callahan isn't the kind of player who will go end-to-end to score the highlight-reel goal, and if you're looking for a Knute Rockne-style speechmaker, you're probably going to be disappointed.

But if you're looking for a player who can make plays in the offensive zone and defensive zone with equal ability and lead more with deeds than words, Callahan is your man.

That's why he's the New York Rangers' captain, and why they're in a tough spot now that he's going to miss as much as a month with a broken thumb sustained Wednesday in a win over the Washington Capitals.

The New York Rangers lost Ryan Callahan in the waning moments of their 2-0 win over the Washington Capitals on Wednesday and now must figure out how to survive the next month minus their captain. (Photo: A.J. Phillips/NHLI)

Callahan was hurt doing what he does: all the things it takes for a team to win. With 2:03 left to play the Rangers were clinging to a 2-0 lead and doing all they could to preserve a win as the Capitals pressed the attack. When a loose puck bounced into the high slot for an open John Carlson, Callahan instinctively went down to block the shot. The shot hit Callahan in the left hand, breaking his thumb.

Despite the pain Callahan finished the shift, and he was on the ice again in the final seconds as the Rangers clinched the victory. He was one of the first players to skate over and congratulate goalie Henrik Lundqvist, but it'll be the last time he does that for a while.

The Rangers already are playing without two key offensive performers in Carl Hagelin, who still is recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, and star forward Rick Nash, who is out indefinitely after he was elbowed in the head by the San Jose Sharks' Brad Stuart on Oct. 8.

Callahan's loss, however, could do more harm to the Rangers. They're still adapting to the new systems put in place by coach Alain Vigneault, and it's shown at both ends of the rink. The Rangers enter the weekend 28th in the League in offense (1.83 goals per game) and 29th in defense (4.17 goals-against per game).

However, the game against the Capitals was the Rangers' best effort of the young season. They limited Washington to 22 shots and put 36 on Washington's net, including 21 in the second period. And their penalty killing shut down all four Capitals power plays.

Callahan, of course, was at the center of it all. He scored the Rangers' second goal -- his third in two games -- and put a team-best six shots on net. He also threw five hits and blocked two shots in 22:06 of ice time, most among the team's forwards.

WHAT ABOUT THE OLYMPICS?

The United States won't announce the team it sends to Russia for the 2014 Sochi Olympics until Jan. 1, 2014, but there's a strong chance New York Rangers captain Ryan Callahan is going to be on the team.

Callahan helped the U.S. win the silver medal in Vancouver in 2010, and during a USA Hockey Olympic orientation camp this summer David Poile, who will serve as the general manager of the team, stated Callahan would be part of the squad's leadership group.

But with a broken left thumb sustained blocking a shot late in the Rangers' 2-0 win against the Washington Capitals on Tuesday, Callahan is expected to miss 3-4 weeks of action.

If he's out three weeks, he would miss eight games and return Nov. 6 against the Pittsburgh Penguins. A four-week absence would keep him out of 12 games and set his return for Nov. 16 against the Montreal Canadiens.

Even if Callahan misses the full four weeks, that would give him 19 games between Nov. 16 and the NHL's holiday break to finalize his spot on the Olympic roster. Patrick Kane and Bobby Ryan most likely were going to earn the right-wing spot on the top two lines, leaving Callahan a third-line spot.

There are a few right wings who might put up impressive offensive numbers during Callahan's absence -- T.J. Oshie of the St. Louis Blues, Kyle Okposo of the New York Islanders and Blake Wheeler of the Winnipeg Jets chief among them -- but none could match the skill set required to play what will be a checking-line role against some of the most talented offensive players in the world.

The injury will keep Callahan out of regular-season action, but his spot on the Olympic team doesn't figure to be in much jeopardy

-- Adam Kimelman

Where the Rangers go next will be interesting to watch. The team on Thursday recalled Darroll Powe from their American Hockey League team, the Hartford Wolf Pack, to take Callahan's spot on the roster, rather than 2009 first-round pick Chris Kreider.

Powe can do the all the little details of the game that Callahan can, but won't provide much offense. Kreider won't be the first choice to dive in front of a one-timer, but his offensive skills are something the Rangers certainly could use. It wasn't that long ago he went directly from being a point-per-game scorer at Boston College to a key performer for the Rangers in the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs, scoring five goals, including a pair of game-winners, in 18 games.

Kreider never reached that level last season, with two goals in 23 regular-season games, but he has two power-play goals and three points in four AHL games this season. On a team struggling for offense, the 22-year-old might have been the more useful call-up.

However, the choice of Powe says exactly what kind of team Vigneault and general manager Glen Sather think they have. In other words, there's enough offense currently on the roster to make up for what Callahan provided. And if you look at the Rangers' top forwards, in theory they're right.

Brad Richards has rebounded nicely from where he ended last season, with four goals and seven points in six games. But the rest of the team has combined for seven goals, and that includes the three from Callahan. Derek Stepan and Derrick Brassard have combined for zero goals, and Nash had yet to score a goal prior to his injury. In fact, the Rangers have goals from as many defensemen (Ryan McDonagh, Marc Staal, John Moore) as they do from forwards (Richards, Callahan, Derek Dorsett).

One solution to the offensive woes could come from another AHL call-up, forward J.T. Miller. Recalled Tuesday, he didn't have a shot in 10:12 of ice time against the Capitals. However, he was leading Hartford with four goals in three games when he was called up, and showed in 26 games last season he could handle the pace of play in the NHL.

"I see [Miller] with a good skill set, some offensive potential," Vigneault said when Miller was called up. "We have some players right now that are getting a real good opportunity to show what they can do with top-six forward minutes and power-play time, and some guys' production is not where it needs to be. [Miller] would be one of the possibilities moving up there if people don't start to produce."

Miller could fit nicely in Callahan's spot at right wing alongside Richards and Brassard on the top line, or he could go on the second line in place of either Benoit Pouliot or Mats Zuccarello, who have flanked Stepan but have combined for zero points.

Regardless of how Vigneault structures his lines, the team needs to build off the positives from the win in Washington. Otherwise it could be a very long month.

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Quote of the Day

I remember the first time at Wrigley Field all of us had the long johns, the turtlenecks and the extra equipment because we were afraid of being cold. Halfway through the first period everybody's ripping everything off and we just ended up wearing what we would normally wear for a game at the United Center.

— Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Sharp on the 2009 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic