When the Rangers bought out the final year of Chris Drury’s contract in the offseason, there was no better candidate to be the 26th man to captain the Blueshirts than Ryan Callahan. As much as Henrik Lundqvist is the backbone of the Rangers, Callahan is the heart and soul, embodying every aspect of the team identity that has been building since coach John Tortorella realized that his “safe is death” style was not going to work with the group being assembled – an identity based on grit and effort, with the sum of the parts being much greater than the individuals themselves.
Callahan plays so much bigger than his 5’11″, 190-pound body should dictate, 6th in the NHL in hits with 237 and 6th among forwards in blocked shots with 76. When the captain is out there setting the example and putting his body on the line for the team, it’s impossible for others not to follow and buy in (Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi are in the top 10 in blocked shots with 169 and 165, respectively). The hard-nosed style is not without risks, as Rangers fans know well. Callahan went down at the end of last season with a broken ankle that was the result of a blocked Zdeno Chara shot and it was blatant how much he was missed on the ice. There was another scare this year when he blocked a shot against the Devils on February 27th that resulted in a bruised foot. Fortunately, he only missed 4 games with the injury.
He is thriving in his first year wearing the “C”, and it’s just not about the physical and defensive parts of his game. He is continuing to blossom offensively as well. Already through 67 games has set a career high in goals with 27, surpassing the 23 in 60 games he scored last year. That’s good enough for second on the team. Eleven of those goals have come on the power play, the most on the team.
After a rough first half of March, the Rangers have begun to right the ship and are getting back to playing the style of game that has gotten them to where they are now. They clinched a playoff spot Monday night against the New Jersey Devils, becoming the first team in the East to do so. Just making it in is not good enough with the way this team has overachieved this season. It’s about holding home ice as long as possible in the playoff run now. With the Pittsburgh Penguins suddenly surging and now fully healthy, what looked like a nice cushion for the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference titles has now become a dogfight for supremacy. Desperately needing breathing room, Callahan shifted his game into another gear Wednesday night, delivering a solid third period at both ends of the ice and eventually delivering the overtime game winner against the injury-depleted Detroit Red Wings with a little help from the post. Not a bad way to cap off his 27th birthday.
Fairly or unfairly, Rangers captains are always going to be compared to and measured against Mark Messier, and with good reason. Messier came here with a resume that in today’s NHL will probably never be matched. But this is the first time since “The Messiah’s” first go-around on Broadway that the image of the man wearing the “C” is reflected in the other 24 men that are wearing the uniform.
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About the Author: Likes: Hockey, the New York Rangers, King Henrik, singing the Rangers goal song, "The Save", the sound skates make against ice, heckling Marty Brodeur. Dislikes: 3-point games, front-office mismanagement, Denis Potvin, overpriced arena beer. Interested? Follow me on Twitter: @CC_927