Paging Captain Cally/Dubi

It’s time for Ryan Callahan and Brandon Dubinsky to start leading by example.

Sure. It’s only been six games. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Of course, no one’s saying the ’11-12 Rangers will evolve into an NHL version of a Roman Empire. However, expectations are up with the key addition of top pivot Brad Richards, who thus far has been worth every penny alongside Marian Gaborik. So naturally, John Tortorella saw fit to break up his top line and play a game old coach Tom Renney became famous for towards the end of his tenure on Broadway. It doesn’t mean the furious coach wasn’t right about his team in the quickest postgame interview that even didn’t give Larry Brooks a chance.

Perhaps if the newest Ranger captain was pulling his weight, none of this would be necessary. At 26, Ryan Callahan is the embodiment of what this team can be. A hard working, in your face, blue collar player who’s become a fan favorite. Number 24 deserved the captaincy entering the season. The Rochester native who lasted till the fourth round in ’04 was the most consistent Blueshirt last year, sacrificing his body 24/7. Nobody has a bigger heart than the gritty kid from Rochester, who earned a new contract along with the ‘C’ as the franchise’s 26th team captain.

There was never any doubt that Cally as he’s become known to teammates earned it with his physical style while establishing career highs across the board (23-25-48) despite missing 22 games, including last Spring’s playoff series versus Washington. To say they could’ve used him would be an understatement. He is as rootable as it gets in this league. A classic overachiever who gets the most out of his talent. With Callahan, it’s always been about effort. He won’t win any skill competitions unless hitting becomes a category. Not exactly the NHL mantra unless they’re inviting broken bones.

Being the emotional leader of a team expected to compete the upper echelon Eastern clubs presents a new challenge. Perhaps it explains Callahan’s quiet start that’s seen him go pointless since scoring his only goal in the Original Six club’s opener in Stockholm. An overtime defeat to LA. True enough, No.24 will go through stretches where he doesn’t score. However, more baffling has been the lack of gumption to his game. Missing is the crunching hits we’ve grown accustomed to seeing that energizes his teammates. Following last night’s clunker that saw the team get blanked by Nikolai Khabibulin (19 saves while on a couch), next to Cally’s name is six penalty minutes and 15 hits. Hardly what you expect from your leader.

As much as it pains me to admit, Captain Cally has been MIA. So much of what makes these Blueshirts go is the black and blue approach of Callahan and American linemate Brandon Dubinsky, who’s not exactly lighting the world on fire. Both had good seasons and received nice raises. Each are expected to lead this club with key component Marc Staal on the shelf probably till at least January. The utter silence from the organization speaks volumes. It’s understandable why the D has struggled to get out of its end with both Staal and Mike Sauer (shoulder) out. Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh are being leaned on heavily, which could comeback to haunt them. While Tim Erixon improves and Mike Del Zotto makes you long for Matt Gilroy, Tortorella has also relied on vet Steve Eminger, who’s been admirable while teaming with Jeff Woywitka and last night, a shaky Brendan Bell. Not exactly a recipe for success.

It doesn’t explain the lack of assertiveness from Dubinsky and Callahan, who have combined for one goal, three assists along with far too many silly penalties. Dubi more mindless than our even keel captain. At least he’s contributed in the two wins. When Mike Rupp has as many goals as two-thirds of the Draft Line, that’s a problem. Sad as it sounds, they’re holding Artem Anisimov back, whose improved muscle has been noticeable. Maybe Tortorella felt he had no choice but to flip Gaborik and Callahan to try to spark them. Unlike last year, Gabby is going- pacing the Rangers with four goals- while creating a plethora of chances. His health and confidence is back where it needs to be. Derek Stepan has fit in well with him and Richards. The reunited Fedotenko-Boyle-Prust mash unit has been the team’s second best line, which means last year’s No.1 line has been invisible. Last night, Tortorella sacrificed the game in Edmonton, allowing Renney to earn revenge.

If it’s not a wake up call to the captain and his ’04 Draft brethren, I don’t know what is. It’s time for Callahan to play instead of worrying about that heavy letter on his chest. It’s also time for Dubinsky to start earning his keep like he said entering camp. There’s no reason they shouldn’t reach 30 goals apiece. Especially given the chemistry with Anisimov, who’s chomping at the bit.

Halloween is eight days away. Time for the American duo to remove their masks and start playing. Tomorrow in Winnipeg is as good a time as any. Their teammates and staff are patiently waiting.

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of New York administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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