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O’ Captain My Captain
Posted January 31st, 2013

BY CHAYIM TAUBER

Finally.

Finally the New York Rangers converted on an early power play opportunity.

Finally the New York Rangers won a game in the Atlantic Division.

Finally, they started to look like the New York Rangers.

And in an instant, with Captain Ryan Callahan down on the ice and painfully grabbing his shoulder, all the good will and feelings were gone

An unofficial report claims that Callahan suffered a mild shoulder separation and will miss a minimum of two weeks. Rangers officials and Coach Tortorella refused to speculate or comment on the severity of the injury or the length of time that the captain will miss but in a shortened season, the effects of any missed time is amplified.

“It sucks when he’s not out there,” Center Brian Boyle said, “but if he’s not out there, obviously you know what he does. You try to motivate yourself to pick up the slack for guys that go down and try to elevate your own game. I thought we did that the best we could.”

The Captain gave the Rangers everything that could possibly be asked of him in the Rangers’ 2-1 win over the Flyers.

Callahan pushed what was a 1-0 Rangers lead on an early Michael Del Zotto goal to 2-0 midway through the second period by banging home a rebound for a power play goal. That goal proved to be the difference in the 2-1 match between the divisional rivals and helped authenticate Coach Tortorella’s claim that “the past couple of games, we’re getting much more movement out of (the power play).”

It wasn’t just the power play however, that Callahan’s presence was felt. Callahan was, as always, a major contributor on the penalty kill, an area which may have left the biggest impact on this game.

The Rangers killed off a monumental 5 on 3 Flyers power play in the second period and they did it in classic Rangers fashion; guile, heart, and grit. Jeff Halpern killed off nearly a minute of the power penalty without a stick, maintaining discipline in his zone and shutting down passing lanes in any way he could muster. Brad Richards, fresh out of the box after taking a holding penalty, sprinted into the play and made a sprawling clear on a puck in the zone to help maintain the Rangers then-1-0 lead.

The Flyers continuously looked to ratchet up the physicality throughout the match. Zac Rinaldo was buzzing around the ice looking for someone to put a big hit on. The Flyers would regularly initiate scrums after the pucks were frozen and it was during one such post-play scrum that the Captain had had enough.

Fed up with the Flyer’s extracurricular physicality, Callahan dropped the gloves and confronted Flyers Center Maxime Talbot. When the brief scuffle ended, a grimacing, hunched over Callahan left the ice and headed straight to the locker room.  Almost instantly, his presence was missed.

The Rangers took four consecutive penalties in the third period and completely missed Kimmo Timonen in front of the net on a penalty kill causing an irate Tortorella to berate his bench. After the game, sophomore forward Carl Hagelin (who had played a great game but had taken the “too many men on the ice” penalty that led to the Timonen score) was the focus of Tortorella’s ire.

“I focus on the dumbness of (Hagelin). He played a hell of a game, but that’s all washed off with dumbness.”

The lack of discipline and the inefficiency on the penalty kill could somewhat be attributed to the captain’s absence.

“He’s a pretty big role, not just on the ice but on the bench, the presence that he brings,” said last night’s star of the penalty kill, Jeff Halpern. “Not having him in the third, obviously, was the difference. He’s a great player, no matter what he does, whether it’s killing, or five-on-five or power play, he’s a great player…you miss him in all the situations.”

The Rangers now have to buckle down and overcome the loss of their captain. Not just the grit and toughness that he brings to the table, not just the penalty killing or his presence in front of the net; the Rangers also have to account for the nearly 30 goals and 25 assists that Callahan brought to the table last season. The good news is, last night offered a glimmer of hope that they just might be able to do that until the captain returns.

Though Tortorella said that his team has “a lot more work to do”, the Rangers are finally starting to get comfortable with each other and though it’s only been two games, are starting to look like the Rangers we expected.

“I think I speak for everyone in the room here, the more games we get going together, the more confidence we get as a group and that’s when you see our game starting to come together,” said Rangers defenseman Michael Del Zotto.

Del Zotto is one of the bright spots for the team, notching six points in six games so far this season and improving his game in the defensive end. The other bright spots? The top line is absolutely dominant. The Richards-Gaborik- Nash line may be the best in the NHL. Rick Nash is like Magic Johnson – big, nimble, as good a pair of hands as there is in the league, and the entire crowd expects a breakaway every time the puck touches his stick.

The Rangers are finally giving their fans reason to believe, it’s maintaining this high level of play (particularly with Callahan down) that’s the challenge.

“For us to be where we want to be, we have to continue to play at a high level,” said star goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. “You can’t just play one good game and then take a step back… this was a good step for us.”