Just when the New York Rangers felt they were finally getting healthy, Ryan Callahan was lost for six weeks. A pair of impressive victories may be proof that they can replace his production.
The Rangers begin their long stretch without Callahan when they face the Phoenix Coyotes at Madison Square Garden on Thursday night.
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New York (19-13-1) has lost 98 man-games to injury this season, including various ailments to Marian Gaborik, Chris Drury, Henrik Lundqvist, Michal Rozsival and Vinny Prospal – who is still recovering from offseason knee surgery.
While Drury returned to the lineup Wednesday from a broken finger that has sidelined him for all but two games, Callahan is now out with a broken left hand, leaving the Rangers without their second-leading scorer with 23 points. He’s scheduled to undergo further evaluation in New York on Thursday.
“I’m not going to sit here and pretend. That’s a big loss to us in Callahan,” coach John Tortorella said. “I felt it right away as a coach on the bench as far as the situations that we use him in.
“We’ll do it the right way. They’ve handled these situations and they had experience and we’ll get through this.”
The Rangers lost Callahan early in the first period Wednesday, and showed they can overcome his absence by scoring four goals in a span of 6:19 of the third to rally for a 4-1 win at NHL-leading Pittsburgh.
The performance came three nights after New York beat Washington 7-0 behind six different goal scorers, with Callahan netting two.
Consistent scoring from Gaborik would help. The star right wing had an assist against the Penguins, but has one goal in six games since netting a hat trick in a 6-5 win over the New York Islanders on Dec. 2.
Gaborik’s production could be in for a jolt. He’s scored 11 goals in his last 10 meetings with the Coyotes (14-9-6), including two goals and one assist in a 5-2 win during the most recent matchup at MSG on Oct. 26, 2009.
He also scored in a 3-2 loss at Phoenix on Jan. 30, as the teams split the season series.
Lundqvist will likely be in net again after making 27 stops Wednesday following a 31-save shutout against the Capitals. He has a 2.00 goals-against average while winning all three of his starts against the Coyotes.
The Rangers have won 11 of their last 13 home games versus the Coyotes franchise.
Phoenix is 1-4-4 against Eastern Conference opponents after falling 3-0 at New Jersey on Wednesday to open this six-game road trip, which begins with four against East clubs.
“We’re a team that if we don’t play all out, all the time, we’re not going to be successful,” coach Dave Tippett told the Coyotes’ official website.
Despite Wednesday’s loss, Ilya Bryzgalov has won four of six on the road with a 1.82 GAA, and will likely start a sixth consecutive game. He’s lost his last two visits to the Garden with a 4.83 GAA, however, getting pulled from the last meeting there after allowing four goals on 11 shots.
Backup Jason LaBarbera, a member of the Rangers’ organization from 1998-2005, is 2-0-1 with a 2.23 GAA in four games against his former club. He’s won his last two starts – both on the road – with a 1.50 GAA.