After a lackluster first week of hockey, the Rangers are showing signs of getting it back together with the type of grit and resolve that became their trademark last year.
The team killed off two pivotal penalties in the third period to preserve their one-goal lead Tuesday, holding off the Flyers 2-1 to improve to .500, 3-3-0, for the first time this season.
But just as they had to battle adversity early on last season, they may be tested again.
The embodiment of the team’s black-and-blue mentality, Callahan wasn’t satisfied with giving the team a 2-0 lead with his power-play marker at 11:31 of the second.
The gritty 27-year-old winger got frustrated with some post-whistle extracurricular activity around the Rangers' net and dropped the gloves with Philadelphia’s Max Talbot early in the third. The short-lived scrap ended with Callahan down on the ice in pain.
He skated off the ice, appearing to favor his left shoulder/arm, and did not return to the game.
The Rangers had no update on the injury after the game. Pressed further on whether he expected Callahan to miss time, coach John Tortorella provided little.
“I have no idea,” he said.
Without one of their most relentless penalty-killers, the Rangers surrendered a power-play goal to the Flyers minutes later, at 7:09 of the third.
A boneheaded too-many-men penalty -- Tortorella alluded to Carl Hagelin’s “dumbness” nullifying an otherwise good game for the young winger -- and a crowded puck battle along the boards on the penalty kill left Flyers defenseman Kimmo Timonen all alone in front to cut the lead in half.
After that, the special-teams unit rallied, thwarting two more Flyers power plays without their heart-and-soul component in Callahan.
“You try to use it as motivation,” said center Brian Boyle, who logged 3:02 of short-handed ice time. “It sucks when he’s not out there, but if he’s not out there, obviously you know what he does. You try to motivate yourself to pick up the slack for guys that go down and try to elevate your own game. I thought we did that the best we could.”
The Rangers hope that isn’t an absence felt Thursday when they face the Penguins, but the severity of Callahan’s injury is still unclear.
The sparkplug forward played all but six games last season, finishing third on the team in scoring with 29 goals and 25 assists in 76 games. But his presence means much more than what he produces offensively.
Callahan is the catalyst for the rest of the team, setting the tone with his board-rattling hits, aggressive forechecking and knack for scoring goals in the high-traffic areas of the ice.
Considering the team’s early struggles to re-establish the identity that made them so successful last season, any prolonged time out with injury for Callahan would be a serious blow to the team as it tries to make up ground in the standings.
“I didn’t see what happened, so I can’t comment on it, but he’s a pretty big role, not just on the ice but on the bench, the presence that he brings,” said center Jeff Halpern, who spent 5:58 killing penalties. “Not having him in the third, obviously, was the difference.”
“He’s a great player, no matter what he does, whether it’s killing, or five-on-five or power play, he’s a great player,” Halpern said. “You miss him in all the situations.”