TAMPA — On a night the Lightning introduced a new captain, they welcomed the same old Ryan Callahan.
Acquired from the Rangers in a trade involving franchise icon Marty St. Louis, Callahan made his Tampa Bay debut in Thursday night’s 3-1 loss against Buffalo and promptly displayed his versatile skill set.
The 28-year-old right wing skated on a line centered by Valtteri Filppula and created a scoring opportunity on the first of his seven opening-period shifts, sending a pass across the Sabres crease that slid harmlessly into the corner.
The former New York captain mixed it up in front of the Buffalo net and saw some time on the penalty kill as the Lightning fired 15 shots at Jhonas Enroth in the first 20 minutes, only to trail 1-0.
Callahan finished with four shots and four hits in 16:33 of ice time, but he failed to block a shot as Tampa Bay’s slump continued.
“Ryan’s tough to play against,’’ said center Steven Stamkos, who succeeded St. Louis as Lightning captain. “He wears his heart on his sleeve and he plays with a chip. He’s not the biggest guy (5-11), but he is physical and fearless.’’
Lightning coach Jon Cooper acknowledged he had moments when he wondered what it would be like to have a player of Callahan’s grit on his bench.
“Yeah, it was usually when he was running into our goalie and me looking at somebody and saying, is somebody going to address that?’’ Cooper said. “The kid plays hard, and that is what you are looking for. We want him to go to those dirty areas, and you can’t have enough of those guys.’’
Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop has the scars to attest to Callahan’s toughness in the high-traffic areas.
“The guy will do anything out there,’’ Bishop said. “You’ll see that first-hand when Ryan goes to block shots. It’s almost scary, sometimes, because he’ll throw his face in front of a puck. He’s not afraid to go anywhere and he’s not afraid of anybody.’’
Callahan entered Thursday’s matchup determined to remain true to himself and avoid the temptation of trying to emulate St. Louis.
“It’s definitely good to get that one over and done with. I felt better and better as the game went on, getting used to playing with everybody. It wasn’t the result we wanted, but I felt more comfortable later in the game,” Callahan said.
At times Thursday, Callahan appeared a bit tentative. Lightning forward Ryan Malone, who played with Callahan on the 2010 U.S. Olympic team, vows better days are ahead.
“You can see how hard the guy plays, shift after shift,’’ Malone said, “He’s small in stature, but to wear the ‘C’ in New York, you need a big heart. We want Ryan Callahan to be Ryan Callahan. Our fans respect hard work, and that’s what Ryan Callahan is all about.’’