‘Rangers Inside And Out’
By Sean Hartnett
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Ryan Callahan used every fiber in his being to kick the Rangers into life in Tuesday’s 4-3 defeat to the Winnipeg Jets. From start to finish, Callahan clawed, scrapped, inspired and sacrificed his body for the cause.
He can look in the mirror and know that he gave everything for the entire 60 minutes. The same can’t be said about the majority of his teammates, who didn’t flip the “on switch” until the final 20 minutes.
Every Rangers fan appreciates Callahan, Dan Girardi, Carl Hagelin and Marc Staal, all of whom play with the focus and reckless abandon needed to win games. The same can be said for gutsy defenseman Ryan McDonagh, who missed Tuesday’s game after suffering an apparent head injury in Saturday’s loss to the Montreal Canadiens when Max Pacioretty boarded him.
Darroll Powe has shown that he has a lot of guts, and rookie J.T. Miller plays with a desire that matches his apparent talent that will shine through once he gains more experience. It’s clear that Miller has an edge to his game.
But still, two of the Rangers’ most highly-paid stars in Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik have gone missing for long stretches in recent games. Neither player has given the Rangers anywhere near the production or level of inspiration they’re capable of.
More important than any concern about their effort is that Richards and Gaborik aren’t playing with the assured nature that’s required of established veteran players. They’re supposed to lead by example and they aren’t. That’s a real worry for the Blueshirts.
Tortorella benched Gaborik for the entire third period on Saturday in Montreal and Richards suffered the indignity of riding the pine earlier this month against the Islanders. Throughout the season Richards has admitted that he’s struggling with confidence. That’s not something you want to hear from an 11-year veteran who tasted Stanley Cup glory in 2004 and has been involved in countless playoff battles.
Richards and Gaborik aren’t going to suddenly gain a physical edge to their game or start playing with reckless abandon. We know that their talents are predicated on skill rather than summoning an all-out effort.
Still, a distinct lack of confidence from the pair is apparent, and a troubling sign for two players who are above the age of 31 and are earning a combined $19.5 million this season.
What the Rangers really need is 12 forwards like Callahan and Hagelin, who are keyed into the game for the entire 60 minutes and don’t suffer from dips in confidence. They are the only forwards who are relentless on the forecheck and are able to score goals because of their positioning and work ethic around the net.
Callahan’s motor is always running. On Tuesday he put forth an incredible shift in which he slid to the ice to block a Zach Bogosian one-timer and then plowed Bogosian to the ice before clearing the puck down ice.
Still without a stick, Callahan directed his teammates like a quarterback improvising at the line of scrimmage and blocked yet another shot. He finished the shift by checking Bogosian once again on his way to the bench.
Confidence was the key word being spoken around the Rangers’ locker room after Tuesday’s loss.
“With wins you gain confidence,” Callahan stated. “We were making plays and controlling the play for most of the game. I thought our confidence was coming. Obviously, it has been lacking the past couple of games. We’re not winning and not scoring enough, but tonight I thought it was coming.”
The Rangers are mired in a four-game losing streak and are currently only a game above the Islanders, who sit in the Atlantic Division basement.
“Guys were trying to make plays and make things happen out there,” Girardi explained. “That’s how we’re going to get out of this thing.”
Without Rick Nash, McDonagh, Michael Del Zotto and Arron Asham, the Rangers were significantly shorthanded against the Jets on Tuesday.
If the Rangers are to climb out of their hole, they must play with the same level of focus and desperation from start to finish when they face the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday. Battered by injuries or not, the Blueshirts must find their consistency.
Are the struggling Rangers playing with enough desperation? Share your thoughts below and send your tweets to @HartnettHockey.