Time for Stepan to step up

GREENBURGH, N.Y. --Derek Stepan does not envision his first goal of the season as a highlight-worthy tally that appears on SportsCenter.

"It's not going to be a pretty one that goes in. I think it's going to be one that bounces off somebody, bounces off me, off anything," Stepan said after the Rangers' optional practice Friday. "I think that's the mindset you have to have. You have to keep working and keep doing things the right way and hopefully get a bounce here or there."

As the Rangers' offense struggles, and they prepare to play without Ryan Callahan for up to two weeks, they need Stepan's first goal to come sooner rather than later. The 22-year-old has four assists and is fifth on the team with points, but the Rangers would benefit from their second-line center notching goals.

"Obviously you want to be scoring goals as much as you can but it happens all the time in any player's hockey career where you get in these little dips and these little funks," Stepan said. "You got to find a way to kind of snap it and get the ball rolling again."

Outside the top line of Brad Richards, Marian Gaborik and Rick Nash, the Rangers' forwards have combined for just five goals. The second line of Callahan, Carl Hagelin and Stepan has just two goals, both coming from the injured Callahan (dislocated shoulder).

While Stepan doesn't have to be a 40-goal scorer on this Rangers team, he needs to be one of the team's valuable scoring options outside the first line, especially in Callahan's absence. He's proven he can do that in the past, as he's had a combined 38 goals in his first two season in the NHL.

Thursday, the first time without Callahan, Stepan showed signs of life with a season-best and a team-high six shots in the 3-0 loss to Pittsburgh. Entering that game, he had just 13 shots on the year and had taken no more than three shots in any contest. He had a combined two shots in the previous two games. Stepan said he knows he needs to step up with Callahan sidelined.

"Obviously, it wasn't as great of a game as I would like it to be," Stepan said. "But I felt I had more chances to get to pucks."

Rangers coach John Tortorella acknowledged that Stepan is one of the Rangers who is fighting through offensive struggles, and said that correlates with confidence. The coach explained that players can't do what they want on the ice unless they feel good about, and for some, there hasn't been much positive this season.

"This game isn't for thinking. It's about reacting, it's about being quick, it's about being hard, and that's the mental part of it. A number of our guys are going through that, and hopefully some good things happen and they start building that type of swagger and mindset," Tortorella said. "That's what it is, a mindset. We have shown signs of it this year but it's up and down, it's been up and down, hopefully we can get that to a consistent level."