It does not matter to head coach John Tortorella whether his team is playing 48 games, 82 games, or is in the preseason, regular season or postseason.
What is relevant to the coach is that his team is fundamentally sound in all aspects. The 2011-12 Rangers were, and as a result finished with the best record in the Eastern Conference and advanced to the Eastern Conference final for the first time since 1996-97.
But trends do not automatically carry over from one year to the next. And what Tortorella has seen over the first two weeks of the truncated campaign is a team that is still learning the rudiments.
“I think the team that handles the details, situational play within the game, handle those kind of things more consistently is going to be a team that wins more consistently. That’s what we’re trying to get to as quickly as possible,” Tortorella said prior to Thursday night’s Garden match against the Penguins. “Situational play is huge in winning or losing hockey games. Situational play comes to the forefront in the third period.”
The task becomes decidedly more arduous without Ryan Callahan, who the organization announced Wednesday will miss the next 10-to-14 days with a shoulder subluxation. Callahan suffered the injury during a third period wrestling match with the Flyers’ Max Talbot in the Rangers’ 2-1 win Tuesday night.
One player Tortorella pointed to as being key in picking up the slack in Callahan’s absence is Jeff Halpern. Signed to a one-year, $700,000 UFA deal last July, Halpern has been one of the better faceoff men and penalty killers throughout his 12-year career with Washington, Dallas, Tampa Bay, Los Angeles and Montreal.
“Faceoffs [are] going to be an important part of his game, penalty killing,” Tortorella said. “With Ryan Callahan [out], he’s going to have to handle some situational play in the third period.
“I think he’s a cerebral player who can help us in a lot of different situations when he gets his game turned on. He gave us some good minutes the other night.”
NHL notes ...
» Matt Gilroy and Stu Bickel dressed last night. Steve Eminger was scratched while Callahan and Chris Kreider (bone chip in his right ankle) were as well, due to injuries.
» Before last night’s game against the Devils at the Prudential Center, the Islanders announced defenseman Brian Strait agreed to a three-year contract. The Islanders signed Strait off waivers from the Penguins on Jan. 18. Also, the Devils activated center Adam Henrique. He has been out since a 5-4 overtime loss to the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Penguins on Nov. 25, 2012, due to surgery to repair the ulnar collateral ligament in his left thumb.
» Pittsburgh signed left wing Zach Boychuk off waivers yesterday. The Hurricanes had put Boychuk on wavers Wednesday with the expectation he would clear and subsequently be sent to AHL Charlotte.
Follow Rangers beat writer Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman.