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Hartnett: Rangers Must Find Their Pulse Minus Captain Callahan

Rangers Lacking Energy, Identity Without Captain Cally
(Photo by Paul Bereswill/Getty Images)

(Photo by Paul Bereswill/Getty Images)

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‘Rangers Inside And Out’
By Sean Hartnett
» More Columns

The New York Rangers must prove an identity exists beyond injured captain Ryan Callahan. The Rangers looked lifeless against the Penguins on Thursday in their first game without their inspirational leader.

How much difference can one man make? Well, Callahan means everything to the Blueshirts, and they collectively lacked all the trademarks their captain inspires — intensity, energy, spirit and mental strength.

It was an easy night between the pipes for Penguins’ backup goalie Tomas Vokoun, who was rarely tested with genuine scoring chances. Vokoun earned an easy 3-0 shutout as the Rangers lacked the jump needed to pressure the Penguins.

Defenseman Ryan McDonagh said the Rangers’ feet were “stuck in the mud.”

The Rangers’ usually aggressive forechecking style was lacking and their skates looked unsharpened as they did not take the game to the Penguins.  It was a collective fail.

John Tortorella labeled the loss as the worst of the Rangers’ young season.

“It’s probably the worst we’ve played all year… collectively,” he said in his postgame press conference.

Where’s The Fight?

Crosby, Malkin and the Penguins’ stars were given free reign to create pressure around Lundqvist’s net as the Rangers lacked anything resembling a physical presence in their own zone.  The Penguins dominated the puck, thus they dominated the scoreboard.

Outside of Dan Girardi laying out Sidney Crosby to earn a roughing minor and Marc Staal taking exception to Evgeni Malkin’s swinging stick, the Rangers showed little fight.  Sure, they outhit the Penguins 34-to-22, but how many of these hits made a significant impact?

There was a point when Anton Stralman executed a strong, clean hit on Crosby, but the Rangers needed to make life difficult for Crosby and Malkin — and they didn’t.

Crosby yapped at officials all night and yapped at Henrik Lundqvist. Outside of Girardi’s questionably called roughing penalty, no Ranger got in Crosby’s face after a whistle.  After he barked at Lundqvist, there wasn’t a Ranger in sight to get in Crosby’s face and stand up for the Rangers’ netminder.

Power Play Showing No Signs Of Life, Simple Execution Lacking

Not only did the Rangers fail to match the level of the Penguins, they couldn’t get out of their own way.  Their power-play woes have been obvious all season, but their performance with the man advantage on Thursday was rock-bottom.  The Rangers went 0-for-4 on the power play against the Penguins and are now a collective 3-for-28 on the power play this season.

Tortorella pinned a lot of the power play issues to the loss of Callahan, who creates traffic, goes hard to the net and instinctively jams loose pucks past opposing goalies.

“We lose a guy that’s really good in front of the net,” Tortorella explained.

In the two weeks that Callahan will be lost, the Rangers must figure out a way to spark their lifeless power play.  Callahan has scored two of the Rangers’ three power play goals this season.  It appears their captain was papering over a lot of the Rangers’ cracks before his shoulder injury.

Even more worrying for the Rangers is the usual amount of careless penalties they’re taking.  Already, they’ve taken four too many men on the ice penalties through seven games.

Energy, focus, execution… the Rangers need to bring these qualities with them when they enter the Tampa Bay Times Forum to face the Lightning on Saturday.

“We still have a lot of things to work on.  We’re not even close tonight. It’s dumbfounding to me. We have to find a way to figure it out and get ready to play Tampa,” Tortorella said.

They will be punished if they continue to make mistakes against a Lightning team that possesses the firepower of Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier.  Tampa Bay is off to an impressive 5-1-0 start.

More importantly, the Rangers need to address their issues before they enter Prudential Center in their first meeting against the Devils next Tuesday.  The Devils are a disciplined group and want to send the Rangers a reminder of why they were able to eliminate the Blueshirts in last year’s Eastern Conference finals.

Do the Rangers lack an identity without Callahan?  Share your thoughts below and send your tweets to @HartnettWFAN.