Hockey Days Are Here Again

The New York Rangers are the Rodney Dangerfield of the NHL:  They don’t get no respect.  Quick to be torn down when they fall short a few games in a row, their wins are discredited as “lucky” and solely the result of the brilliance of Henrik Lundqvist.  They’re anathema to the analytics community.

Coach Alain Vigneault also doesn’t get his due.  True, the Rangers haven’t won the big prize (yet), but they’ve been about as good as a team could be during the two years of AV’s tenure (and even before) short of earning the Stanley Cup.  Who else has been so consistently close?  Chicago and L.A., pretty much, and we know how their respective campaigns have ended.

But like all teams, despite one of the best starts in team history, they sometimes go through dips.  For the Rangers, their dips can sink to the level of divots due to one simple reason:  THEIR GOAL SCORING DRIES UP.  As well as they play defensively, as well as King Henrik guards his crease, if they’re not scoring, even one goal against will defeat them, and two down is a huge mountain to climb.

I have my theories (and advice, if there were anyone I could actually GIVE it to!!).  For starters, there’s no real sniper on the team; whether slappers, wristers or tips, I swear we must lead the league in shots going wide.  And while Rick Nash and Chris Krieder and J.T. Miller and even Kevin Hayes (although Hayes is more of a playmaker) probably fall into the category of “power forward” and often take up residence in front of the opponent’s net, they don’t do it often enough (fully realizing that it’s not a pleasant place to be and requires a high pain threshold, especially in the cross-check-to-the-ribs area).  The most infuriating thing for me is to see scary-fast, 6’3”, 225-pound Chris Krieder barreling down the wing, with a defenseman helplessly on his heels, and instead of going straight to the net he does this back-pedaling buttonhook thing.  NO, KRIEDS, NO!!  USE YOUR BIG BARRELLING BODY TO GO FORWARD, SON!!

Bottom line:  When you’re collectively, as a team, having a bad game (which is something I’ll never understand – how can all 12 forwards and 6 d-men suck AT THE SAME TIME?), the key is to keep it simple.  Get the puck out of your zone ASAP; get it deep into the other team’s end and make them come 200 feet, through you, to score; and when you manage to get into the offensive zone with numbers, throw everything – pucks and bodies – at the net whenever you get the chance.  It seems really simple, doesn’t it?  Why can’t these guys figure that out?  It’s obvious to ME, and I’m just a dumb girl who never played the game.

It’s taken 20 years, but my daughter Darian is finally a true Ranger – nay, a HOCKEY – fan.  She never misses a home game of the West Virginia University American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA) Division I Mountaineers.  (Admittedly, she has a small crush on one of the back-up goalies but she really does go for the hockey, especially as the crush is going nowhere – stupid hockey boy!)  She’s even taken advantage of bargain student tickets to go to Penguins’ games, strictly to root against them in her Ranger jersey, of course.

I’ve come to relish our back-and-forth texting commentary during Ranger games.  It doesn’t work as well when I’ve DVR’d the game (although that does have the benefit of allowing me to fast-forward through the despised car commercials), and even when we watch in real time she’s always about 40 seconds behind because I watch the games on MSG Network and she gets them via a shared NHL GameCenter package.  As a result, I’ll type my reaction to a great goal, or a save, or a “can you believe that?” moment immediately but I have to wait until I get the icon that she’s typing before I send it.  By now we’ve got it all figured out, but sometimes I get excited and forget and she writes back, “Too soon!”

Very rarely, the Rangers will play a ho-hum contest or, rarer still, a “please let this end” type of game.  I’ve gotten accustomed to those aberrations over the decades of my Ranger fanhood, but after the thoroughly uninspiring 2-1 loss to the lowly Colorado Avalanche last Thursday, Darian experienced one of her first such sentiments.  “I think I need a break from watching,” she texted.  “But you can’t stay away!” I replied.  I know how it is.  Sure enough, we were tuned in and ready to text for the match-up with the Ottawa Senators on Sunday night.  We were rewarded by one of the Rangers’ best efforts of the season, especially in the third period, taking advantage of an Ottawa team that had played something like 6 games in 9 nights, including some overtimers, to give up only three shots on goal.  Power play – two goals.  Penalty kill – 2 for 2.  Henrik only had to make 23 saves, and really none of the breathtaking variety that have been on display so far this season.

It’s especially aggravating to fans actually at the game when they throw up a stinker like that Colorado game, and believe me, I know.  Walking down the internal staircase at MSG after a bad or boring loss, you hear a litany of curse-words or, depending on just how bad a loss it was, sometimes just angry, dejected silence.  It’s particularly tough on young kids just learning to become fans, but it offers an important lesson:  Life is full of disappointed expectations, even when mom or dad has paid upwards of $300 for the privilege.  On any given night there’s a 50/50 chance you’re going to be grumbling down the stairs at MSG.

As part of Darian’s Xmas present this year (and, yes, I confess, an Xmas present for myself as well), I purchased a couple of high balcony seats at Madison Square Garden for the Rangers-Caps game on December 20.  All I have to say is, they had better win!!

* * *

There was a great little Yahoo! Puck Daddy “panel discussion” (on paper) this week about the NHL players of whom the various Puck Daddy pundits were secret, begrudging fans [Greg Wyshynski, “Which NHL player do you begrudgingly admire? (Puck Daddy Roundtable)”, Puck Daddy, 12/3/15, http://sports.yahoo.com/blogs/nhl-puck-daddy/which-nhl-player-do-you-begrudgingly-admire—puck-daddy-roundtable-080239232.html?soc_src=mediacontentstory&soc_trk=ma], which reminded me that I have another “Top Ten” list to share:  My Top Ten Favorite Non-Rangers (in no particular order):

P.K. Subban, Montreal Canadiens:  a jokester and formidable defenseman who sincerely cares for his fans, especially the young ones.

Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators:  graceful and handsome, with a sick flow and a knack for just APPEARING where you least expect him; also a friend of Henrik and Carl Hagelin (see “Former Rangers” category).

Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins:  an impressive talent on offense and defense, a face-off savant and an all-around classy guy.

Joe Thornton, San Jose Sharks:  Jumbo, with his sidekick Slappy (and/or Tomas Hertl), quick with a quip and the master of the tape-to-tape pass.

Alexander Ovechkin, Washington Capitals:  how could you NOT love that gap-toothed, bent-nosed, grinning man-beast who enjoys hitting people and has a shot like a rocket?

Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins:  does things normal humans shouldn’t be able to do.  Too bad he plays for the Penguins.  (Not for much longer???)

Tyler Seguin, Dallas Stars:  love his sense of humor and offensive skills; he and his buddy Jamie Benn are making hockey sexy in the Big D.

Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks:  A leader in the Mark Messier mold, but my absolute favorite thing about Captain Serious is a photo of him on a bus with the Stanley Cup.  (Look it up.)

Brent Burns, San Jose Sharks:  A literal Bigfoot-on-ice, a rare player who can play both offense and defense equally well, with a bomb for a shot.  He also loves animals of all kinds and has a cool personal reptile zoo at his house.

Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames:  The latest in a long line of little men who make people stand up and take notice every time they’ve got the puck.  (We’ve got one of those in Mats “ZOOOOOOK!” Zuccarello.)  He also looks like he’s about 12 years old.

Honorable Mention, Former Rangers Category:

Brandon Prust (now with the Vancouver Canucks and recently fined for poking Bruin Brad Marchand in the pouch, to the delight of so many anti-fans that they’ve started an online fund-raising campaign to help Prust pay the fine); Carl Hagelin (now gracing the Anaheim Ducks with his flowing locks and blazing speed); Ryan Callahan (always “Captain Cally” to me); and, of course, the ageless one, Jaromir Jagr (now grandfathering the kids in tax-free Florida).

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