Thursday, December 16, 2010

Daily Recap: Rangers Battle Back Again; Callahan Out Longer; Losing Cally Different; Who Steps In?; Prospal

The story of tonight’s Rangers game was about the Rangers proving again that this year is different with another comeback sparked by Brandon Prust and finished by Erik Christensen.  The game was certainly not pretty at moments, heck for long stretches but this team just finds a way to get the job done and there is certainly something to be said for that.  Inside the full recap would be all the details on scoring plays, thoughts on who/what worked and what didn’t and how the Rangers managed to do it again.

Most of the day today was spent looking at the fallout of the Ryan Callahan injury which will sideline him for the next six weeks.  The morning I discussed how losing Callahan would be the Rangers toughest test yet in terms of dealing with the various injuries to key players on the club.  I looked back at some of the other injuries and what the absences of those players meant for the club along with analyzing what having Callahan out of the lineup will mean.  I also looked at who might be the biggest loser in the injury to Callahan though that might be painfully obvious already.  Bottom line is there are things that Callahan brings that no matter what the team does on the stat sheet cannot be replaced in my opinion.

Following as I put it, the morning of mourning over his injury I looked at where the Rangers will turn to fill the different roles Callahan plays.  Some of these decisions are easier to figure out than others like the penalty kill, but some of them are probably going to be a fluid situation where different players take over those different positions.  Some of the names that I looked at included: Chris Drury, Brandon Prust, Mats Zuccarello, Dale Weise, Ruslan Fedotenko and even Matt Gilroy.  Now not all of them were suggested for instance to take the second line spot but be done in coordination with other moves, so check out what I view as the pros and cons to all the possibilities and give me your thoughts.

Before the game there was more information on from John Tortorella’s pregame meeting with the press.  The headlines were Biron starting; Callahan now out 6-8 weeks; No call-ups and Prospal getting a new timeline.  Inside there are more details on why some of the moves were what they are and my take on all the news.

In the odd-ball story of the day there was also the Coyotes signing amateur goalie Tom Fenton to a pro contract to be their emergency goalie tonight in the Garden.   Absolutely unbelievable that a guy could go from not playing an organized game in nearly two years to an NHL rink and it must really tick off a lot of professionals who have spent their entire careers toiling in the minors and never gotten the same seat he had tonight.  Inside are some details on his “career” along with one of the interviews he did during tonight’s game.

Coyotes Sign Amateur Fenton To Back Up In Emergency Scenario Against Rangers

If you started today having no idea who Tom Fenton was, then join the club, but by the end of Thursday he will be one of the most researched names in the world for this day at least.  Tom Fenton, who works in the community relations department at Manhattanville College in Purchase, N.Y. would sign a pro contract with the Phoenix Coyotes on Thursday to be their backup goaltender when they took on the Rangers in Madison Square Garden Thursday night.  

The reason the  Coyotes had to do something like this was their regular starting goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov came down with the flu and being that they were on the east coast and had no chance to fly in a call up from their system they needed someone who was local and that all leads to Tom Fenton.

Tom Fenton a 26 year old who never turned pro, which made him eligible for this kind of move and played four years of hockey at American International College in Springfield, Massachusetts with his final season coming in 2008-09. In that final year Fenton compiled a 1-12-1 record, a 3.60 goals-against average and .886 save percentage as a senior.  Having not played an organized game since he would spend the night sitting on the bench in an NHL uniform, what a change a few hours can make.

Fenton would not see any action in the game, but he would see plenty of cameras and interviews asking him about the world wind day he had been through.  What a day for Tom Fenton.  Just goes to show anything can happen.

Rangers Show Again This Year Is Different As Prust Starts, Christensen Finishes Comeback Win

You can say a lot of things about this incarnation of the Rangers, but one thing you cannot say is that they quit.  This team may look ugly in doing it, but they are finding ways to win games and they are doing it by continuing to battle until the bitter end.  There are only so many times you can play that way, but the great thing about wins like this is it reinforces the idea of continuing to battle and play the game the way you know how to.  When you are rewarded for sticking with your system, you buy into the system more and more and then hopefully you will not need to win so many like this, but the confidence will be there if you do fall behind.  Tonight it was Prust giving them life, Stepan tying it and Christensen winning after last night it was Christensen, Frolov and Boyle, so the real question becomes who is it next game?

This is not last year’s Rangers.  Last year instead of being on a three game winning streak at this very moment they would be sulking and feeling sorry for themselves having lost two in a row.  Have to love the fight in this team right now.

Biron Starting; Callahan out longer?; No Call-Ups For Time Being; Prospal mid-January?

In tonight’s pregame chat with the media a series of different news worthy items have come out concerning tonight’s starting goalie, the re-evaluation of Ryan Callahan’s injury; a timetable on Vinny Prospal and when or if a call-up from Connecticut will happen.

First the easy one is that Biron will start tonight against the Phoenix Coyotes which is something I thought might happen because Biron needs to get back in there after being pasted two weeks ago and eventually pulled against the Islanders.  This move gives Lundqvist an extra day off before playing the Flyers on Saturday and then a nice break until they play Tampa next Wednesday.

Callahan and Call-ups:
As for the Ryan Callahan situation the initial reports of missing six weeks are now being tempered somewhat by saying 6-8 weeks on the injury.  The good news is that there is no surgery required for his busted left hand.  Obviously every extra day/game that Callahan is out will be critical to the Rangers, but in the meantime they will have to find a way to persevere in his absence. 

Along those lines while I did not expect a call-up from Connecticut before tonight’s game I did expect one next week when the schedule starts going again but according to Andrew Gross coach John Tortorella does not think anyone from the AHL club is ready right now and they will consider call-ups when the schedule gets more compacted in January.  Obviously this is good news for Todd White who is likely to be in the lineup every night at least until Derek Boogaard comes back.  Personally I do not understand the move because a player like Dale Weise is ready to step in on a fourth line role at the NHL level and has more upside than White does.

Also according to Andrew Gross, in this tweet, the timetable on Prospal which had been speculated about as potentially for New Year’s is now looking more like mid-January which only further confuses me in terms of the call-up situation.

Where Do Rangers Turn To Fill Callahan Roles? Drury, Zuccarello, Weise, Others?

Earlier I discussed why losing Callahan would be the Rangers toughest test year. Now that I took the morning to in a sense have a type of mourning over the injury to Ryan Callahan and his loss for the next six weeks it is time to look at the what the Rangers options to take in attempting to fill the roles of Cally.  The best way to go about this is probably with a list of candidates followed by analyzing each for what they can and cannot do in these scenarios.  Let us not forget either that what the Rangers are likely to actually do must be a huge factor in considering all the options on the table.

Chris Drury: From the game last night it appears that at least for the short term they are going to use Drury as the main guy to fill Callahan’s spot in most phases whether it be the second line, the power play or the penalty kill.  Drury is more than capable on the penalty kill of taking that role and doing it just as well as Callahan does as long as he too does not get injured blocking a shot.  At even strength I do not think Drury really fills the same role on the line with the energy and forecheck as Cally does because of his lack of speed in getting in on the play.  On the power play I am not big on Drury down low, but I would move him back to the point and allow Stepan to move down low because Drury has much less hesitation to take the shot from the point and it will allow Stepan to move back to a better playmaking position for him.  In accordance with this though I would take Christensen off the first unit and put Boyle on as the presence in front of the net. 

Brandon Prust: I would hate to break up Prust and Boyle as they have been brilliant together but I believe that Prust is the best “alternative” to Callahan at even strength in terms of getting in on the check and scoring similar types of goals.  As I said the drawback is just that of breaking up the great work that Boyle and Prust are doing together so maybe in the end it would just be plugging a hole and causing another one.

Mats Zuccarello:  I expect this to be the popular option for many as Zuke is a dynamic player who is on fire right now for the Whale and could potentially provide another dimension to the offense.  The problems with this move is that to be effective Zuccarello likely needs a top six role which Callahan’s injury does afford, but the question is whether he is ready.  The Rangers seem to be very happy with how fast he is progressing but do not believe he is there yet, which makes them unlikely to make the move.  More interesting for me is whether or maybe how he would fit in with Dubinsky and Anisimov.  Zuke is a high skill player with excellent vision and passing skills which could certainly help Dubinsky and Anisimov in the goal department on the rush, but would his lack of size hurt the overall dynamic of the line in terms of forecheck and the fact they have been predominantly used against the other team’s best offensive players?  Also if the Rangers go with the Drury option then the Zuccarello move should be off the table.

Dale Weise:  I said last week that I believed Dale Weise might be the most pro ready of the guys with the Whale and if not for his injury he would have been the one to get the call when Gaborik was hurt not Grachev or Williams.  If Drury is the move up to the second line which for me removes Zuke from contention for a call Weise is certainly someone capable of coming up for a 3rd or 4th line role right now and contributing some offense as well.  To me this is a better alternative to inserting Todd White into the lineup on a consistent basis.  Weise is a big physical player will skill and has been hot in his last three games with three goals and two assists to bring his season totals to 6 goals and 5 assists in 12 games.  For me if a call is going to be made this is the most likely one.

Ruslan Fedotenko:  This is the one move that could throw a wrench into my Zuke to the second line or not at all thinking.  Fedotenko has been one of the Rangers best forecheckers this season and would help to keep the type of style that Dubinsky and Anisimov have been used to with Callahan at even strength.  What this would open up as well would be a position for a skill player to go with Stepan and Gaborik on the top line which Zuccarello could fill potentially but that is a lot to ask of a guy who is still adjusting the North American style of play.

Matt Gilroy: A wildcard to this could be Gilroy not for the Callahan spot but for a bottom six forward instead of Todd White though the Rangers seem reluctant to move Gilroy to forward even though at the moment all they are doing is scratching him.

For me the most likely outcome is Drury takes Callahan spot and Weise gets a call, but the call for Weise would be unlikely to come before tomorrow’s game.  Hit me with your thoughts on the suggestions I have and if you have other ones.

For Rangers Losing Ryan Callahan Will Be Toughest Test Yet

Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

The New York Rangers of 2010-11 are no strangers to losing key players from their roster for long stretches due to injury.  Marian Gaborik has missed 13 games, Chris Drury 29 games and Vinny Prospal every game thus far and all are key components to the Rangers, but this is different.  You will hear all the clich├ęs about how the New York Rangers have played well without Gaborik, Drury and Prospal, but losing Ryan Callahan is a different beast altogether.  I will grant that the principle is the same in that the team will have to rally and that other players will have to step up in his absence for the next six weeks, but the shoes that need filling are possibly the biggest on this club outside of Henrik Lundqvist.  Ryan Callahan has been called the heart and soul of the this hockey club for a reason and it is all of those reasons that making losing him different than any of the other losses the Rangers have suffered this year.

In losing Drury they lost the man who wears the ‘C,’ a very good faceoff man and an excellent penalty killer.  In losing Gaborik they lost their most explosive and dynamic offensive player.  In losing Prospal they lost a tough veteran who can be a very good offensive contributor.  All of those things are obviously important to a hockey club, but the difference in losing Callahan you are losing a combination of all of them in one guy.  With Callahan down you are losing an excellent penalty killer, one of your best forecheckers, a key power play guy, one of your leading point scorers, a guy who can chip in some goals, an unquestioned leadership figure and a lead by example leave it all out there every night player.

During the game I heard people say this guy can fill this part of his role and that guy can fill this part of his role and while Drury can fill pieces of what Callahan does and Prust can also fill parts of what Cally does, that is the point there is no one on the team or in the organization that can fill the role of Ryan Callahan.  The Rangers have created their identity as a blue collar hockey club that will hit you and outwork you in order to succeed and that mentality is derived from Callahan as the embodiment of what they want the club to do.  I am not saying that there are no other players on this team that do that because certainly guys like Prust and Boyle and Fedotenko live off the blue collar play that has become this team’s identity but they also do it in the background.

Potentially the biggest loser in the injury to Ryan Callahan is his running partner Brandon Dubinsky.  Dubinsky has played at an all-star level this year and with a consistency of effort that he has not had in his game before this season and I will attribute at least some of that to playing with Callahan full time whether it be at even strength or killing penalties together.  The two of them have gone through some sort of mind meld with each other where whether they look or not they both know where the other will be at all times and that has been tremendously helpful to each in all phases of the game and their synchronicity has resulted in both being off to career offensive starts this season.  They have become the de-facto leaders of this club in all aspects because frankly they have outworked everyone else for the title by mixing the hockey skill they possess with their tireless work ethic and you have to wonder how the loss of his other half in a hockey sense will impact Dubinsky on the ice.

There will be players like Brandon Prust, Chris Drury, Brian Boyle and Brandon Dubinsky who seek to step their games up in the absence of Ryan Callahan and watching the Rangers this season I have no doubt they will put in the work to try and accomplish that in whatever grinding way they have to, but they still will not replace all that Callahan brings to this club.  The reason you cannot replace him is because of just how much of what Callahan does which is beyond a box-score because the points, the blocked shots, the hits will never fully tell the story of Callahan and why he is the heart and soul of this club, so you can replace all the statistics and still come up short because a soul is something you cannot find in someone else.  Ryan Callahan will wear the ‘C’ of this club officially at some point in his career and as much as the Rangers fans and team learned that in the last 10 weeks in the absence of Chris Drury they will learn how real that fact is much more poignantly in the next six.

The motto of this site is: “no player is bigger than the sweater,” and I fully believe that to be true, but what might make Callahan different is how the way he carries himself shows his deep belief in that same philosophy.  For Callahan it is purely about the name on the front, not the one on the back and that is why every Rangers fan out there will spend the next six weeks waiting until they can see Callahan on the back of their team’s sweater again.

I will talk about what comes next and how the Rangers will try to fill the many roles of Ryan Callahan later today, but felt this needed to be said first.

Daily Recap: Rangers Rally; Cally Breaks Hand, Zuccarello Now?; Torts Presser; Anisimov Back in Stride; Werek Injury

You would think after a huge road comeback win against a team you cannot stand like the Penguins writing a recap of the day would be fun thing to do, but honestly it is not at the moment and that is because of the broken hand suffered by Rangers assistant captain Ryan Callahan during the first period of tonight’s game against the Pens.  In the quick post above that detailed the injury to Callahan I also quickly explored the option of calling up Mats Zuccarello from the AHL.

As for the game itself it was a tremendous third period effort by the hockey club lead by some unusual suspects, Alex Frolov and Erik Christensen, in the comeback win.  This win can be a huge one for the club and does help to continue the idea that this year is different than prior seasons.  The recap gives you all the details on what went on in the game as well as my thoughts on who were the best players for the Rangers on this night that took two different shocking turns.

Following the game John Tortorella had some money quotes in his press conference in which he discussed why the team won, the painful loss of Callahan that he felt immediately and not only him saying "he has balls as big as the building" in reference to Drury but how he said it made me chuckle. The Video of the Press conference is here.

This morning I wrote about Artem Anisimov had refound his game and for him it was just in the nick of time with Drury now back and lurking for him spot, little did I know that tonight Cally would get injured and they would be playing with one another before the day is over.  Inside is a discussion of what has changed in Anisimov between when he is struggling and when he is going well, and it was one of those things that was evidenced on his goal again this evening.  In addition I compared the Anisimov's situation with how the Rangers have handled Derek Stepan and Michael Del Zotto to see which treatment was going to fit Anisimov.  In the end it appears Anisimov is going to avoid needing to watch like Del Zotto having worked through his struggles on the ice like Stepan.  I believe not only working through it but the way he handled himself in the midst of the struggles says a great deal about Artie and his future.

Leading up to the game there was the information about how Todd White was going to be the scratch, Lundqvist would start and why Vinny Prospal was sent home. After tonight’s result those decisions which were really no brainers to begin with all look like brilliant coaching moves as it was Christensen who was said to be the other potential scratch and he scored, Lundqvist was excellent in net though not tested with particularly hard saves too much tonight and Prospal move was good for the team.

In prospect news, thanks to Jess Rubenstein of The Prospect Park, I was able to provide an update on the status and injuries to Ethan Werek and Scott Stajcer as well as clear up some things on Carl Hagelin.

Finally there was video of a fight between Colton Orr and Zack Stortini from Tuesday night that made me think about why he is so missed from the Rangers not just for what he did to Stortini but why he was fighting him in the first place.  Check out the story to see what I wish Derek Boogaard would learn from Colton Orr.

Video: Torts on Cally "It's A Huge Injury"; Dru "He's Got Balls As Big As The Building"

Torts went through what the injury is preliminarily, the timetable, how he felt when it first happened and what the team will have to do. His quote on Drury was priceless.