Tue 5 Apr 2011
No one ever said being a Ranger fan was easy, but the “fickle finger of fate” couldn’t let everyone bask in the glow of the Blueshirts improbable come from behind victory for even 12 hours – never mind 24 hours. The New York Rangers confirmed the morning’s rumor that Ryan Callahan is out indefinitely after hurting himself while blocking Zdeno Chara’s shot late in the third period.
While the exact extent of the injury is up in the air – reporters say Callahan broke his right ankle while the Rangers official press release says fractured right leg – the prognosis is still the same according to Coach John Tortorella who termed called the injury “long term”.
There is no doubt in the matter that whoever replaces Callahan in the lineup will have mighty big skates to fill. In addition to having a career season offensively (23 goals, 25 assists, 48 points and 10 PPGs in just 60 games), the Rangers alternate captain is the heart and soul of the team.
The Rangers did respond well when Callahan was out of the lineup for 19 games after suffering a broken hand while blocking a Kris Letang shot. The Blueshirts went 10-7-2 during that period from mid-December to late-January.
At first blush, it appears that Tortorella is going to insert Matt Gilroy into the lineup because the Rangers sent Kris Newbury back to the Connecticut (AHL). It is unsure if the Rangers will go with 11 forwards and seven defensemen or if Gilroy will skate a regular shift at wing.
The Rangers would be doing Gilroy a disservice, and taking a bit of gamble giving regular (or even semi-regular) ice time to someone whose NHL experience at wing can be added up on one hand.
One has to wonder if the Rangers are looking at Gilroy as a temporary replacement as they sort out their options. They might not want to commit to a “permanent” replacement until they see who their playoff matchup is. Of course, they do run the risk of putting the cart before the horse if they are unable to chip away the three points that separate them from a playoff spot.
Looming in the background is the potential return of the captain, Chris Drury who has been nursing a knee injury since February 3. According to Andrew Gross, Drury will return to full practice with the team. It is possible that the Rangers might be using Gilroy as a place holder until Drury can get a few practices under his belt.
I know some fans are rolling their eyes at the thought of Drury returning to the lineup, but he fill in on the penalty killing unit and would provide some help on faceoffs. Unfortunately, Drury does not provide the offense or physical play that Callahan does.
If the Rangers wanted to look towards a more physical player, they could turn to Newbury or rookie Dale Weise. Newbury might be the better choice because he has more experience than Weise and does provide the Rangers with another option on faceoffs.
Unfortunately, the Rangers do not have anyone in the system who can match Callahan’s offense. While Mats Zuccarello has the potential to be a 20+ goal scorer in the NHL, he seems to have hit a wall in his rookie season in the NHL. The one thing that might have gotten him some ice time would have been his ability to play the point on the power play, but MZA has proven to be too inconsistent. In that case, the Blueshirts would be better off with Gilroy in the lineup as a seventh defenseman/power play specialist.
Given that there is no “perfect” replacement for Callahan, if Drury is able to play then he should get the chance. For better or worse, he might be the best option as he lends experience to a young team, can kill penalties, and win faceoffs. Perhaps he will harken back to his Buffalo Sabres days and score a crucial goal with seven seconds left in the game.
The best thing for the Rangers would be for the Detroit Red Wings to give their Original Six brother a hand by beating the Hurricanes in Carolina in regulation time – thus shaving the magic number to one. While the Red Wings have clinched their division, they currently sit third in the Western Conference one point behind the San Jose Sharks. Hopefully, playoff positioning is important in Motown.
In the mean time, Tortorella is going to have to rework his lines no matter who is going to replace Callahan in the lineup. You have to figure that he will keep Vinny Prospal, Derek Stepan and Wojtech Wolski together and insert Marian Gaborik on the RW with Brandon Dubinsky and Artem Anisimov. As long as Ruslan Fedotenko is able to stay healthy (his questionable health was the reason Newbury was recalled in the first place), the Bulldog Line 3.0 (Fedotenko, Brian Boyle and Brandon Prust) is a given. That leaves Sean Avery and Erik Christensen to team up with (insert the player of your choice).
Following the Boston victory, Tortorella summed up his team this way in a response to a question from Rick Carpiniello.
”We’re not a terribly gifted hockey club. But they find a way. They find a way. I’m … you know … I’m not a big lovefest guy here, but I like, I just like how we stuck to it, and we showed balls. It was really good stuff.”
With their heart and soul out of the lineup indefinitely, the Rangers are going to get a chance to show just how big those balls are.
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