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When he makes his return tonight, after missing 19 games due to a broken hand, Ryan Callahan will bring the New York Rangers their true captain back to the lineup. The Rangers did an admirable job in his absence, compiling a 10-7-2 in those 19 games. This team found out in those 19 games that the values and identity that Callahan helped instill in the hockey club he has taken leadership of are still there and is the reason they could survive in his absence. Record alone will never tell the story of what the Rangers have done without since December 15 when Callahan broke his hand blocking a shot against the same Penguins he will return to the lineup against tonight.
Asked what it meant to have him back, coach John Tortorella said, "He does everything for us. He's one of our leaders. He’s one of our leaders. I wasn’t sure, and I give our team a lot of credit...when we lost him, that’s when I worried about where the team was going to go. And I give our guys a lot of credit for hanging in there and finding a way. Cally’s that important, so it will be good to have him back in the room first of all, and then on the ice."
Ryan Callahan returning is not just another player coming back to a lineup that has been depleted by injury, it is a team getting their heart back; the center of their identity. The thing that has made this Rangers team different from those that have failed in the past is the fight and effort they bring to the ice every night. The team is based on a blue collar mentality that no matter who goes down, the next man steps up; that no matter what a game may look like they will fight until the final second is off the clock. That mentality is the same one that Ryan Callahan has played with for his entire career and the team finally caught up.
In the past those things, the heart and soul things, have been what has defined Callahan and his value to the hockey club. This year he was in the midst of having a career season offensively as well going from a typical 20 goal 40 point year to 10 goals and 13 assists in just 32 games. I do not expect Callahan to ever be a 60+ point guy, but he shows the capability to be a 25 goal, 50-55 point player, which added to everything else he does makes him tremendously valuable to the New York Rangers.
While overall the Rangers held it together in the absence of Callahan you could tell at times how badly he was missed in the consistent slow starts to games; the periods of games where the team lacked energy; and how the team got away too often from their grinding style. The fighting spirit of the team never left, but the willingness and consistency to get in on the forecheck and pound teams sometimes seemed to get lost in the shuffle. That will not happen with Callahan back in the lineup. He will not stand for it and it watching him throw himself around on every shift is something that becomes contagious to the team.
One thing that will never be said about Ryan Callahan is that he left something out on the ice on a given night. With each game he pours it all out there physically, mentally and emotionally for his teammates and the fans. It is why he is such a pleasure to watch and why his impact on the club cannot be measured by any statistic. Ryan Callahan is the complete package to epitomize not only this team, but this city in that no matter the odds he will take the fight. How he leads, carries himself and plays for the name on the front of his sweater and not the adulation and recognition of the one on the back is why Ryan Callahan title or not is the captain of this team.