Friday, October 21, 2011

What Is Wrong With Ryan Callahan?

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
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.

Ryan McDonagh Gives Rangers 3-2 Win With Last Second Overtime Goal

Ryan McDonagh scored with 1.8 seconds left in overtime to give the New York Rangers their second straight win.  McDonagh’s goal was started by a great rush by Brandon Dubinsky into and battle to maintain possession in the zone and Dan Girardi while be pressured at the point fired wide and the puck bounced off the back wall to McDonagh who fired it in for the win. 

This was yet another game the Rangers had no business getting even one point from, but Henrik Lundqvist gave kept them alive long enough for the team to steal not one, but two points.  Lundqvist ended the night with 33 saves including numerous highlight reel saves that bailed out defensive mistakes.  No save was better than the glove rob he did on Tom Kostopolous 8:23 into the game.  Lundqvist is as locked in as it gets right now having caused a team that overall could have zero points right now to get points in four of their five games thus far.

Rest of the scoring:
Marian Gaborik got the Rangers on the board first with a beautiful power play goal from the slot at 4:53. Gaborik started the play when he covered for Michael Del Zotto at the point and kept the puck in the zone.  Gaborik worked the puck to Richards at the other point who played it to Stepan low on the left wing side and he fired a beautiful diagonal pass to a streaking Gaborik in the slot for a wicked one-timer over Henrik Karlsson shoulder.  The goal was Gaborik’s fourth in just five games and the Rangers first on the power play this season.

Calgary struck back quickly as only 58 seconds later Jarome Iginla tied the game from right in front.  Dan Girardi had the puck hop over his stick which created a quick transition play where Alex Tanguay fired the puck across to Iginla, who was alone in front as McDonagh not expecting the quick turnover.

The Rangers took the lead again when Brandon Prust scored a shorthanded goal while Marian Gaborik was in the box.  Boyle stole the puck from Bouwmeester in the corner and fed Prust in front for the shortie.

With just over five minutes left in the opening period Cory Sarich checked Brad Richards into the boards and Kris Newbury took exception to the hit.  Newbury immediately skated over and dropped the gloves with Sarich.  It was the kind of move that is great as a fourth liner standing up for teammates.  The problem with the move however was Newbury got the instigator for it and the Flames made them pay on the power play with Mark Giordano beating Lundqvist to tie it up 2-2.  Lundqvist was very upset with himself after the goal. 
  • Tim Erixon was phenomenal tonight and easily the third best defender for the Rangers.  Dealing with the boos each time he touched the puck was enough, but to play as solid as he did, the kid is getting better with every game.
  • Marian Gaborik is a completely different player to start the year as he is back to skating and attacking the front of the net again
  • Dubinsky had his best game of the year.