Saturday, April 2, 2011

Now Is Where Rangers Need Ryan Callahan To Rise As Their Leader

Justin K. Aller/Getty Images
Since coming into the NHL Ryan Callahan has been a heart and soul player for the New York Rangers who works tirelessly, takes hits in order to make a play gives hits to prevent them, and sacrifices his body constantly in order to aid his team each night.  If Callahan never became more than what he was entering this season he would be a valuable player for any of the 30 NHL teams because of what he brought to an organization both on and off the ice.  But that is not all Callahan is this year.  He has raised his game to an entirely new level and has been leading the charge to the playoffs for the Blueshirts both with his leadership and overall play from before, but also with a dramatically increased scoring output.  Now the Rangers need him to see an even greater level in the final four games of the regular season.

Callahan has been the definition of the Rangers identity and his self-sacrifice and lead by example mentality is why he will be the next captain of this proud original six franchise.  Right now is the moment where that leadership will be tested the most as the Blueshirts have lost two straight and the fears about their standing in the playoffs is in question with just four games to go.  In those last two games the team has struggled to find the energy and desire necessary for this time of the year one of the most surprising things has been how much that has applied to Callahan himself.  I expect him to come out leading the charge on Sunday as he and the team look to regroup from this bump in the road on their way to securing a playoff birth over the final stretch of the season.

The now 26-year-old Ryan Callahan is having a career year in all offensive categories despite missing 19 games earlier in the year with a broken hand that he, not surprisingly, sustained blocking a shot.  On the year he has 23 goals and 24 assists in just 58 games, but in this last five game stretch where the team has scored only five goals he has only accounted for one point.  He has transformed from a guy where the offense he provided was seen more as a bonus and secondary thing to one that the team relies on if they are going to produce, so they need him to score.  As true as that is, the team needs him to give that energy and effort he was famous for even before the year began.  If Callahan gets back to playing his game, tough, physical, grinding style, then the goals will come again and when the Rangers start to score they have a tendency to loosen up and watch the floodgates open up.

In the Rangers last meeting with Philadelphia it was Callahan who set the tone early and often with four goals and an assist in the 7-0 rout on March 6.  The Rangers do not need him to have that kind of career game against Philly on Sunday, but they do need him to combine his skill and leadership to bring this team to where it needs to be both on and off the ice.

Rangers Change Lines For Offensive Spark, "Need To Be Who We Are"

With the rival Philadelphia Flyers looming tomorrow afternoon the New York Rangers are talking a very confident game today despite the current two game skid.  The level of confidence in who they are and the way they play is something that is necessary at this point of the year.  However the key is not whether they say the right things, but that they truly believe what they are saying.
One of the key quotes put out from coach John Tortorella via Rangers official twitter feed was the following…
"We're going to respond the right way...we know who we we need to be who we are"
There is no better way to phrase what the Rangers need right now than that.  This team has spent an entire season attempting to form an identity and when they play to that identity they can have success.  When they lose track of who they are and how they are successful, then they predictably struggle.  A Rangers squad that does not forecheck, does not cycle the puck and does not maintain puck possession is one that does not generate offense.  A Rangers team that does not cover in the defensive zone, does not sacrifice the body to block shots and does not clear the puck when they have the chance is one that struggles defensively.  Most importantly a Rangers squad that does not outwork its opponent on a nightly basis and show how badly they want to win that night will not win because they do not have the talent to get through it will less than their top effort against a team like Philadelphia.
In an attempt to spark the struggling offense Tortorella has changed the lines and moved Brandon Prust up with Brandon Dubinsky and Artem Anisimov.  The corresponding move was to take Ryan Callahan off that line and put him with Brian Boyle and Ruslan Fedotenko.  I don’t really like the move as it was done, but in trying to keep the Gaborik line together I presume this was the easiest of the changes to make in the lineup since the fourth line was pretty locked in as it will be.  If there is a struggle offensively early I would expect changes to those lines anyway so no need to get overly excited or upset about them.

Despite Recent Reactions Rangers Still Control Destiny So Have A Little Faith

Yesterday for many was a day to vent over the frustrations of the Rangers last two performances and it was well deserved, but now we need to take a step back from the ledge of talking about collapses and look at how the situation actually shakes out.  Part of the reason for heightened emotions is simply that they not only lost, but got drubbed by the Islanders.  Rivalry losses, especially to a team that many consider a step child currently, will always send the fanbase into an extra level of panic and dismay. 
The Rangers have some of the most passionate fans in all of sports and that is why each win for some is seen as a sign they are going to be having a parade when the year is over and each loss is a sign of the world coming to an end.  There is a middle ground and after venting yesterday let us see if we can find it.
Without question they have struggled in the last two games, but there are still four games left and here are some other facts they take into those.  The New York Rangers are still in a playoff spot.  The team is actually closer to sixth than they are to ninth.  The team is still in controls of their destiny having a three point lead while Carolina only has one game in hand.  The Rangers, even with two straight losses, are still 8-3-1 in their last 12 games so discussion of that as a collapse seems a little out there. 
If these two losses had been spread anywhere else along those 12 games the freak out would not have been nearly as large, but there was a sense of complacency amongst both the fans and apparently the team in terms of the inevitability of clinching a playoff birth.  Now that must be gone.  Now the team will get back to how it has played all season as a hardworking, grind it out team that plays to higher level than the sum of its parts.  If you do not still believe in those things as facts, then you obviously were not paying attention for the first 75 games of the season and don’t know the character of this team very well. 
For the next four games no matter what we see on the ice we owe it to this group of players and the level of things they have given us to cheer for this year to continue to support and believe in them.  If they come up short again it will be awful, but they deserve better than for the fans to quit on them now before the final horn goes on the regular season.
Now that I gave the pep talk let’s look at the remaining schedules:
Current Points
Game 1
Game 2
Game 3
Game 4
Game 5
at NJ(4/2)
Chi (4/5)
at OTT (4/7)
at TOR (4/9)

at WAS (4/2)
at Car (4/3)
TB (4/5)
Phi (4/8)
at CLB (4/9)
at PHI(4/3)
Bos (4/4)
ATL (4/7)
NJ (4/9)

at NYI (4/2)
Buf (4/3)
Det (4/6)
at ATL (4/8)
TB (4/9)

The difficulty of all the schedules seems to be relatively even because while some look easier than others rivalries are also involved which makes any game more difficult.  At best you would assume that Carolina gets four wins in their last five which would mean the Rangers need three to lock it down.  More likely is Carolina goes 3-2 in those five and the Rangers must find a way to muster three points in their four games, which is inherently doable if they play their game.  The last thing the Rangers want to do however is leave the rivalry game against the Devils as the decider on the season so they must gain points in these next three games and make the season finale an afterthought.

Things are never as bright as they seem in Ranger land, but they aren't as dim as they appeared the last 36 hours either.