Ryan Callahan is keeping New York in the playoff picture.
There is a certain humility that comes with being a captain in the National Hockey League. Often times when things go wrong, the “C” is expected to face the cameras of swarming New York media. A soft spoken, gritty seventh year veteran, Ryan Callahan embodies humility as he sits in his stall and answers every question from every reporter. He embodies the identity the Rangers wished they possessed right now. Put simply, his on and off ice demeanor has held the Blueshirts in postseason position.
Some fans may overlook Ryan Callahan in the team’s MVP discussion. It would be easy to give the team’s leading scorer, Rick Nash, the team MVP award after 35 games. It would be even easier to give it to Henrik Lundqvist, who, despite a 15-13-2 record, is having another excellent season that is only subpar when you consider last season’s Vezina-caliber campaign. But don’t rule out Ryan Callahan, the player most closely identified with the character of the Rangers.
This isn’t a reaction piece after the Callahan’s four point outburst against Winnipeg. Cally’s recent highlight reel shorthanded goal helped the Rangers earn two crucial points against the Jets on Monday. Turning a 5-on-3 into a shorthanded goal has a way of sparking a team. So does finishing with four points in a 4-2 Rangers victory. And while you can’t expect your second line winger to finish with four points every night, it’s easy to see why the team ebbs and flows with the 5’11” forward.
The 127th overall selection in the 2004 NHL Draft, Callahan went into the Blueshirts' most recent contest with nine goals and six assists during the lockout-shortened campaign. But a slightly deeper look into the numbers will tell you that the Rangers are 2-7-1 when their captain has a negative plus/minus rating. To further the point, the Rangers are 8-4-2 when Cally tallies a point. Yes, it goes without saying that the likelihood of a New York win is higher when the Callahan line scores. But it’s really not the goals that impress me the most.
Goals can turn any arena into a frenzied celebration, but I’ve never heard a roar as loud as the Rangers penalty killing captain loses his stick in the defensive zone. Diving to the ice to take slap shot after devastating slap shot to the body, nothing gets by Callahan when he loses his stick. Inevitably the crowd’s excitement grows with each blocked shot until the puck is thrown down the ice to a deafening roar from the Garden faithful. The delirium lasts for the remainder of the penalty, when the Rangers kill off the remaining time.
That specific situation occurred a month ago at Madison Square Garden. In the midst of a 3 game losing streak, Callahan’s squad lost to Winnipeg, 4-3, despite a five hit, one goal and a +2 effort. His team fell to 8-8-2 with the loss, perhaps the low water mark of the season. After the game, Callahan saw the positives that would turn into a four game winning streak the next week, saying: “There’s a lot of good things we need to take out of this game, and we have to block everything out and realize that. And if we do that, we’ll be ok.”
He was right. He usually is when he assesses his team. His comments were right on, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the team took the hint from their captain in the following four games.
Such a scenario defines the 28-year old hockey player. He didn’t come up as a star prospect; his first few stays in the league were short lived. He grinds into corners, and fights in the crease. He puts in work with both special teams units and adds a physical presence to the second or third lines while regularly playing 20+ minutes per game. He is an embodiment of the John Tortorella style on the ice. He is the blue collar, hard worker that embodies his hometown – Buffalo, New York – on the ice.
Off the ice, he maintains an even disposition that is well beyond his years. He speaks of the confidence a team needs to be successful despite his relative youth compared to some of the elder statesman that act as captains in the NHL. His 392 games of regular season NHL experience are enough for him to speak. After all, he is the second longest tenured member of the Rangers behind just Henrik Lundqvist.
When the season comes to its conclusion, the Rangers will likely be in the postseason despite a streaky season made worse by a shortened season with little practice time and heavy in back to backs. And when the Rangers sneak in, you can thank Ryan Callahan.
Of course he’s far too humble to give himself that credit. But I will.