Much has changed since the Rangers were last in action on
Monday night. Since the Blueshirts’
thrilling 5-3 comeback win over the Boston Bruins, the team has lost alternate
captain Ryan Callahan, and both Buffalo and Montreal picked up two
points to drop the Rangers back into eighth place. Last night, Carolina upended the Red Wings to pull back
within two of the Rangers.
still controls its playoff destiny, but the loss of Callahan has darkened the
mood in Rangerland. Tonight’s game
against the slumping Atlanta Thrashers will be as much about solidifying the
team’s hold on a playoff berth as it will be about gauging the team’s morale
without its heart and soul.
Without Callahan, Matt Gilroy will slide into the lineup at
right wing, presumably on the fourth line. He might be replaced in the lineup shortly by Chris Drury, but in any
event, someone’s going to have to step up in Cally’s absence. The obvious candidate is Marian Gaborik, who
has been invisible and unproductive for the majority of this season. Gaborik has been playing some of his best
hockey lately, so there’s reason to believe that he could be on the verge of
breaking out. However, the more likely
result is that several players will have to take on bigger roles over the
coming week(s). If/when Drury returns,
he will immediately be trusted with penalty killing and with solidifying the
fourth line. He must also produce some
offense. Wojtek Wolski, who tallied two
assists against Boston
on Monday and scored a shootout goal on Sunday, must also start playing hard
consistently and producing some offense. Younger players like Artem Anisimov and Derek Stepan, both of whom have
been streaky, must take yet another step forward and take on even more
responsibility. All of this is to say that
a group that has grown as a unit all season must continue to do so. One player can’t possibly replace all that
Callahan brought to the Rangers, so they must do so together.
The Rangers also must rediscover their power play. Since Bryan McCabe arrived, the pp unit has
been significantly more efficient and has usually looked more organized. However, the Rangers are one for their last
23 on the man advantage, a problem that most be rectified. Playoff games are won and lost on special
teams, and especially without their second leading scorer, the Rangers will
need to create offense when presented with golden opportunities.
is a relatively soft foe and ranks 29th in goals against and on the
penalty kill, so this should be a good game to get a grasp of how capable the
Rangers are of overcoming the loss of Callahan. The Rangers could make the playoffs without No. 24, but tonight’s game
against Atlanta and Saturday’s against New Jersey will be all the practice
they’ll get in game situations of filling the void opened by Cally’s injury.