New York Rangers Break Hearts and Ankles

San Jose Sharks goalie Antti Niemi (31) makes a block on a shootout shot attempt by New York Rangers right wing Ryan Callahan (24) as the Sharks lose to the Rangers 3-2 after a shootout at the HP Pavilion in San Jose, California

The news that the New York Rangers have lost forward Ryan Callahan indefinitely to a broken ankle is bumming out a lot of people.

Callahan is the team’s second leading goal scorer despite having missed 19 games with a broken hand.

He averages 19:54 minutes of ice time per game.

He kills penalties and works the powerplay.

But most importantly of all, Callahan’s speed and forecheck creates a lot of opportunities for the Rangers, forcing defenses to either collapse around him, opening space for his linemates, or letting him through to take his shot.

Callahan’s 23 goals this season are impressive because he doesn’t have great hands or a special shot. His talent is finding hundreds of ways to get in great shooting positions.

And even when Callahan doesn’t score, his aggressive forechecking makes it tough for opponents to get the puck out of their own zone. So even Callahan’s offense is defense.

The Rangers have survived without Callahan, but they’re a quicker, more physical team with Callahan in the lineup.

Jesse Spector wondered if Wojtek Wolski, often residing in coach John Tortorella’s dog house for his inconsistent, lacksadaiscal play, will see more ice time with Callahn out.

Wolski has shown flashes of Callahan’s brutally physical game, but he’s shown no ability to play like that for more two periods, so I’m not sure Wolski will find himself promoted to a top line in Callahan’s absense.

Rather than call up a forward, Tortorella is moving defenseman Matt Gilroy to the wing (Gilroy played forward before college).

Gilroy will probably just be a fill-in for Chris Drury, who’s just about ready to return from knee surgery (receiving it, not performing it).

Tortorella has had Gilroy in and out of the lineup, depending upon how he felt about defenseman Steve Eminger. Tortorella seems to like both equally, so penciling Gilroy in as a forward allows Tortorella to give ice time to both.

Also, Tortorella is making less and less use of his fourth line, so it almost doesn’t matter who’s playing on it.

Larry Brooks sees this whole experience as a referendum on the Rangers’ shot-blocking ways.

Obviously, blocking shots isn’t the safest way to deploy your best forwards, but it speaks more to the dangers of playing a physical game. Tough players are more likely to get hurt. It wasn’t Tortorella’s coaching that got Callahan hurt. It was Callahan’s instincts.

The Rangers will survive without Callahan because they have no choice. It’ll be interesting to see if Marian Gaborik uses the loss of Callahan to try and redeem what’s been a very weak season for him.

If Callahan’s absence finally gets Gaborik going, perhaps Callahan’s ankle wasn’t broken in vain.