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The New York Rangers had a number of questions that needed to be answered coming into the season, but few if any wondered about Ryan Callahan. Callahan was named the 26th captain of the franchise because of his leadership, but also in part because his play epitomizes the identity the team strives to have. The Rangers have failed to establish that same identity as last season or the same style of play and to see why you have to look no further than the play of Callahan himself.
In the Rangers opener against the Kings Callahan played his type of game and had a huge impact recording an important goal to help spark a lifeless team and recording a tremendous 11 shots on goal. Since then his game has seemingly declined and his impact has been non-existent in the outcome of games, which is not what the Rangers need from his both as their captain and as a player who was given a new contract based on last year’s production. The question has to be asked; What is wrong with Ryan Callahan?
The two easiest theories revolve around Callahan either nursing some sort of injury that is not being publicly talked about or that he is simply pressing trying to live up to his contract/being named captain.
Playing through an injury is the one that many will naturally gravitate to because his lack of impact both on the scoresheet and in the regular flow of the game. Injury could be why he does does not seem to be forechecking quite the same way he has his entire career, throwing his body around with reckless abandon, but there doesn’t seem to be an obvious ailment.
Callahan pressing over the contract or being elevated to captain of the team is a natural concern that you have with all players trying to prove they deserve what the organization gave them. Solving that can be more difficult because it is purely mental as all Callahan has to do to prove he is worthy of both the contract and the captaincy is play Ryan Callahan hockey. Gripping the stick tighter is not going to make the puck go in. Looking for the perfect pass or shot is not going get more points in the boxscore or end of season stat count. Play the same honest hockey that he has played his entire career and the results will be there.
Beyond those two main theories the most noticeable issue for Callahan appears to be him misreading the play significantly more often than we normally see from Callahan. Against Calgary there was a prime example as Brandon Dubinsky drove the zone and fired a backhander toward the net leading to a rebound right out front, but instead of Callahan crashing the net as he typically does he was still in the slot allowing Calgary to clear the puck out of danger. There were other plays where on odd-man rushes he was the one drifting to the wing while letting Ryan McDonagh be the one driving hard to the net. All of these types of things are unlike Callahan and the way he has always played.
An interesting idea that is pure speculation on my part is if Callahan is playing a slightly different game this year because he doesn’t want to get hurt and miss significant time like last season. The worth of Callahan to the lineup is massive as was seen in his absence during the playoffs and it is the double edged sword when discussing him. The Rangers need him to play with that reckless disregard for his own health while on the ice, but they also need him to stay healthy and the way he plays (blocking shots, delivering hits), at his best, lends itself to him getting injured.
Those expecting Callahan to continue last seasons .8 point per game pace were always likely to be disappointed because of how drastically it differed from his prior statistical output, but those will more reasonable expectations of 25-30 goals and 55 points will likely get what they are looking for when the season is over. Whatever the issue is for Ryan Callahan over the past few games, the New York Rangers need him to figure it out quick or they are going to continue to struggle to find their stride as a team, instead relying on Henrik Lundqvist to save them long enough for the team to steal some points.