Hockey is a supremely stupid game. Things don’t happen the way they’re supposed to. The Hockey Gods reward and punish on a whim. Case in point: Tonight’s Game 3 in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Rangers-Pens, first of two at MSG. Joint is jumping, Rangers come out flying and in fact play two pretty solid periods of defensive hockey, forechecking in earnest, clogging up the neutral zone and not letting the Penguins through. Pens are on the power play in the first period when they take a double minor for high-sticking. The teams play four-on-four for a while, then, not long after the Rangers’ power play starts, Krieder scores a beautiful second-effort goal. The Garden erupts in ecstasy.
Ah, but no – our joy is short-lived: The newly instituted coach’s offside challenge is employed and it turns out that the Ranger’s skate was inches over the blue line before the puck came over. Goal is waved off and we can feel the negative energy lurking.
Rick Nash scored a beauty of a short-handed goal to give the Rangers the lead but, truth be told, the Rangers spent much of the first two periods wasting offensive chances, including the rest of that first 4-minute penalty and then two more power plays in the second period during which they got barely a sniff. Begrudging credit to Penguins, but Rangers need to work through that shit. That’s the whole POINT. You need to play BETTER than the other team.
Tonight, even though the game-winning goal was flukey – two Rangers collided at the blue line and the puck miraculously popped on to the stick of the on-rushing Penguin, who was almost shocked to receive it – he was just in the right place at the right time (for HIM). Now the Rangers are trailing with ten minutes left in the third period, at which point the Penguins rallied around their rookie goalie even more stoutly, and the Rangers failed to find the will within themselves to break through. Any of them could have risen to the occasion and bulled his way to scoring a goal – anyone! – but instead no one did.
There’s this “advanced analytic” measure that the hockey stats nerds cite which is literally a calculation of LUCK. It ultimately regresses to the mean, but some teams seem to consistently have better luck than others. Yes, to quote an ancient hockey truism, “You make your own breaks” – by working harder, by putting in that extra effort. But hockey is a freaky competitive experience. Sometimes things happen that SHOULD NOT HAPPEN. The puck pinballs in off three sets of skates, or conversely stays out of the net despite going from post to post along the goal line without ever crossing it. A stick comes up into a guy’s face and it’s a penalty, but every once in a while – whoopsie! Human error!! – no one sees it. There’s dozens of happenstances in a typical game that make the diehard fan scratch his or her head in perplexity: “How was that even REAL??”
And there’s another phenomenon that always baffles me: how an ENTIRE TEAM can suck at the same time. It must be bad mojo or something supernatural. Even though a team has four separate lines and three sets of d‑men, and only five skaters are on the ice at one time, when something goes wrong for one of those lines or D pairs, suddenly it infects ALL the lines and/or ALL the defensemen. How is that even possible? I guess it is the case that confidence and positive energy can be contagious among teammates; why not a crisis of confidence and negative juju?
Well, the Rangers need to re-group. That’s all there is to it. There were a lot of positive signs tonight, but they have a very big problem (and I’m sure I’ve mentioned it in one or another of my hockey posts): They don’t have the killer instinct. They seem unable (or unwilling) to capitalize when they force the other team into mistakes. Their power play is a prime example of consistently wasted opportunities to make the other team pay. And they also don’t shoot enough. How many times have we heard the fans at MSG screaming at the boys to “SHOOOOT!!”, especially with the man advantage? They’re always looking for the perfect pass, the highlight reel play, when all they really need to do is get the puck on net and send some bodies that way as well.
Simple, right? But they don’t listen to me shouting through the TV or sending telepathic messages. Ah, how I wish they would! It’s like I’m an “eye in the sky” and can see what ails them, but I just can’t get my message through!
Boys! Rangers!! I love ya, but you’ve got to SHOOT THE PUCK. Please.