One game after Marc Staal returned from a lengthy injury absence, the Rangers will get one of their other key veterans back in the lineup Friday against the Pittsburgh Penguins when Ryan Callahan returns after missing nine straight games with a sprained knee. It will mark one of the few times this season that the Rangers will play with a completely healthy lineup; and ironically it comes against a Penguins team that currently lists eight players on Injured Reserve.
"They're such a big part of the group, so obviously you can tell the difference when you have players like that away from the room and from the ice," Henrik Lundqvist said of Staal and Callahan following Friday's morning skate at the CONSOL Energy Center. "When key guys come back it's always a lift knowing that they're going to help this team. It gives confidence to the rest of the group."
Callahan said that he was convinced he'd be ready to play against the Penguins after a rigorous practice on Thursday down in Florida. He has not played since spraining his knee in a game against the Predators on December 10th, which was two games after Staal had suffered a concussion December 7th against the Devils.
Staal was back in the lineup on New Year's Eve after missing ten consecutive games due to his injury. He did not miss a beat playing nearly 24 minutes in solid fashion.
"It was great seeing Marc coming back and play that well," offered Lundqvist. "You'd think he'd be a little bit rusty, but he played such a strong game. It was such fun to watch and to have him back in the room, and to have Cally back in the room, just means so much to the group."
Callahan deflected questions about his consistent pattern of returning ahead of schedule from injuries. Originally he was slated to miss 4-6 weeks with this knee injury, and is back in under four. Callahan did not, however, sidestep questions about his frustrating injury-marred season so far.
"It's hard to sit out and watch your team," stated the Rangers captain, who has missed 17 games due to three separate injuries so far this year. "It's been a tough year with the injuries, no question. This happens sometimes. You just have to stay positive, keep working hard. I said it as soon as I hurt my knee, it's just another bump I have to work through to get back as fast as I can."
It's been a good week for Callahan, who on Wednesday was selected to play for the United States Mens Olympic Hockey Team in Sochi, Russia in February along with Rangers teammates Ryan McDonagh and Derek Stepan, and who two days later makes his return to the Blueshirts lineup.
The same can not be said for Penguins stars Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang. Both were holding out hope that they'd be able to face the Rangers Friday, but after the morning skate head coach Dan Bylsma put that notion to rest saying each needed another day or so before returning from injury.
To make room for Callahan in the lineup, J.T. Miller will be the healthy forward scratch for the Rangers. He will join defensemen Michael Del Zotto and Justin Falk on the sidelines when the Rangers face the Penguins.
"J.T. has been playing well, but tonight it's just about a numbers game," said Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault.
Callahan will start in the right side on a line with Derick Brassard in the middle and Benoit Pouliot on the left wing.
Lundqvist starts his third straight game in goal for the Rangers, while rookie defenseman Conor Allen will play in his third consecutive contest since being recalled from Hartford.