Tag Archives: Hockey

Goodbye Boys

I was fully expecting to post here in celebration of a Rangers’ win in Game 6 of the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but such was not to be.  It was very clear from the outset that they were missing some key ingredient, the focus and energy they needed to win a game they had to win to stave off a miserable end to a moderately successful regular season and build on a quality performance in the first round in dispatching the Montreal Canadiens.

They frankly did not deserve to win, in spite of a couple of spurts of excitement for fans desperate for a bit of heart and effort, on home ice, in a must-win game.  But whatever they needed wasn’t there.  They just didn’t have the will.  Ottawa, on the other hand, rose to the occasion, following their game plan to a T, making the blocks and scoring the goals required to win.  The Rangers, alas, did not.

All day – actually, ever since they lost game 5 on Saturday afternoon, a contest they should have won, that they actually earned but could not nail shut – I’ve had a feeling of what could only be described as ambivalence.  I’ve wanted to feel excited but there was something not quite right in my gut.  And then I watched them come out in the first period without a lick of urgency and give up two goals without an answer despite three power plays, failing miserably to get through the neutral zone while playing defense like shredded linen.  It frankly made me felt a little sick to my stomach.

Second period, I waited for the spark.  It was sorely missing until more than halfway through the period, when finally it came, in the form of the team’s living sparkplug, Mats Zuccarello (who had earlier gotten bloodied by a high stick from his very best friend who now plays for the other team, earning four minutes of power play time that the Rangers summarily wasted), made a beautiful pass to Mika Zibanejad and the boys were on the board.  But it didn’t take long for that happy balloon to burst when the best defenseman in the NHL – and in this series – Erik Karlsson made an all-world play to score the eventual winning goal after breaking up the Rangers’ two-on-one in his own zone.

There was a brief moment early in the third period when it looked like they might tie things up.  Darian and I, watching side by side on the coach, in unison, screamed “YEAH!” when Chris Krieder did what we always want Chris Krieder to do (but which he doesn’t do often enough) and scored a gorgeous runaway-freight-train breakaway goal.  But another failed power play and a tightening up by the Senators – who, it must be said, played exactly the kind of game they needed to play to win and were the better team all night – and time ran out on the Blueshirts.  I was hoping that there would be some sort of karmic justice, where the Rangers would come back to tie the game in the last minute and then win in overtime, just like the Sens had done to them in Games 2 and 5, even though the Rangers were the better team in those games and deserved to win them.  But the hockey gods had other plans for the Rangers, and the Rangers themselves couldn’t rise to the challenge.  THE END.

I don’t like to watch the post-mortems when the Rangers lose, so I don’t know what any of them had to say for themselves.  There was no explanation, no justification for an entire team to just completely choke, to be unable to match a stellar effort by the opponent with one of their own to put together a playoff game for the fans at MSG to remember.  I’m sure I’ve written before in one of my many blog posts about the Rangers how mystifying I find it when an entire team kind of sucks simultaneously.  Could no one – not one of the 18 skaters and one goaltender on the ice at any one time – put the team on his back and carry them forward in this most crucial of games?

I’ve noticed recently that I’m just not as enthusiastic about the Rangers or professional hockey in general as I used to be, even during this 2016-17 season when the boys had some good stretches of exciting hockey.  But during the last couple of months, the Rangers were complacent, content to sit in the playoff position that would enable them to cross over into the “weaker” division.  They started well in the first round; although they threw up a real stinker of a Game 3 in the Garden, they were able to find their collective heart and spine and string together three convincing, mature victories over Montreal.  This second series against the underdog Ottawa Senators has been a different story, however, with the late-game defeats on the road (after having been such a strong road team all season long) even though they outplayed their opponents for at least 55 minutes out of 60.  Problem was, it was those last five minutes that cost them.

I’ve begun to question the value of sports in general.  I mean, I know it’s an entertainment alternative, just like movies, Broadway theater, opera and ballet, rock concerts and stand-up comedy jams – just another way for humans to enjoyably spend their time, attention and lots and lots of money.  But somehow people get really invested in sports, identifying with the individual athletes and teams to the point of obsession.  I’ve often described myself as a “die-hard Ranger fan” (what does that MEAN, actually, “die-hard fan”?  That I’m willing to die for my team, like a soldier for her country?)  When I was working full time and had more disposable income, I actually invested in a partial season ticket plan for a couple of years, ten games a year at the Garden.  The seats weren’t great but it was a fun thing to do with my kid, who I had always wanted to inculcate as a fellow Ranger fan, and we got invited to events like a “Bowling with the Blueshirts” night and meet-and-greets with Rangers alumni.

I can’t really explain my diminished enthusiasm.  There are quite a few players I like on the current team, and for the most part they had a good season.  But there is some piece missing, some spark, that has made hockey not as much fun for me to watch anymore.  Perhaps it’s because other aspects of my life have moved to the forefront and have left less room for things like listening to Marek v. Wyshynski podcasts or ravenously reading every article after a win.  Maybe I fear they are destined to be an also-ran for the foreseeable future and their proverbial “window” has closed.  I’ve loved Henrik Lundqvist for a long time and he is unquestionably the best goalie the Rangers have ever had, but for the past couple of seasons, there’s been something almost bratty and petulant about him.  You can see it in his body language on the ice, the way he yells at his teammates or throws up his arms in frustration.  I know it’s valued as intensity, and everyone says he’s the most competitive guy they know, but it’s beginning to bug me a little.  And lots of other Rangers have failed to live up to their advertised potential (Rick Nash and Derek Stepan come to mind), or have outlived their usefulness (Dan Girardi and Mark Staal on the blue line, for example).

Ultimately, I am left disappointed, like I have been every year since 1994 and like I probably will be for years to come.  So now I’ll pulling for the Washington Capitals, a perennial also-ran team themselves, although they have to get through the injury-plagued Pittsburgh Penguins first.  But maybe the answer is to invest a lot less of my limited time in the New York Rangers.  Hockey can be fun once in awhile, but I don’t have to live and breathe it anymore.  (But check this space in October – you never know.  I say basically the same thing every year.)

Four Thoughts

Much to my chagrin, my writing lately has been suffering from a few blocks.  One of them is a seeming inability to hold on to a single train of thought for any extended period of time.  I don’t know what the cause is; it’s probably just an excuse that I’m making to myself to explain away my lack of writing.  But I WANT to write, I WANT to get back on the blogging track.  So this week I’m posting a prime example of what I’ve been suffering from:  four separate thought trains that have been running through my mind at various times, but none of which I’ve been able to develop into something larger (nor has something larger appeared in my brain to take over instead).

(1)  I’ve been awash in emails from politicians and organizations that want me to sign petitions or answer survey questions, all of which support the anti-Trump agenda, and I am in total agreement with them – with one exception: MONEY.  I do not have a dime of spare money right now to contribute to a candidate or a cause, and that’s always the last page in the survey or the petition request:  “Can you donate (a) $5 or (b) more?”  (I note there’s never an option for “(c) Sorry, can’t contribute at this time but I’m fully behind you in every OTHER way.”)  Which raises the question:  All that money that goes to support candidates and lobbying efforts – where does it actually go, and what exactly is it used for?  And how does a recipient of all that money account for spending it?  Knowing a little bit about how non-profit organizations work, I am aware that even the smallest grant requires reams of periodic reports to explain where every penny was spent (not to mention the detailed measurement metrics of outcomes and line-item budgets that go into a request for such sometimes measly funds).  Who keeps track of the campaign contributions and the hundreds of thousands of dollars poured by lobbying behemoths like Big Pharma, for instance, into an organization like the one in Arizona whose sole purpose was evidently to oppose the recreational marijuana initiative?  Or do those funds even need to be accounted for?  Is it like a blank check?  And what actions do these organizations undertake – with or without coffers full of Big Pharma money?  Ads, transportation, printing and copying, phone bills — what could possibly cost so much money?  I mean, clearly the denizens of Big Pharma have more money than they know what to do with but, of course, rather than lowering drug prices for the needy public, they’d prefer to spend huge sums to fight unnecessary political battles and create even more unnecessary and inane advertising campaigns.  Could the blank checks be nothing more than – dare I say it? – bribes to have political influence, to convince politicians and also the public that whatever Big Pharma wants, Big Pharma should get. But who cares about the public interest, really?  To Big Pharma, regular people are mostly idiots but are valuable for putting even more money into the pockets of the 1 percent (who don’t already have enough, right?).  I’ve always said that I hate money, and this is yet another reason why.

(2)  I know I am not alone in thinking that current U.S. administration and Russia were in collusion on the Syrian chemical attack as a way to deflect from the election intrusion / ongoing influence mess.  I also know it sounds like a cynical tinfoil hat conspiracy theory, and an unimaginably tragic way to do it, but I wouldn’t put it past them.  What’s the cost?  The horrific deaths of a couple dozen Syrian children?  We’re all just pawns in their global realpolitik game.  Those “beautiful babies” were probably going to die anyway in one way or another, whether as a casualty of the interminable war itself or by drowning in the Mediterranean trying to escape.

There was an email from the resistance watchdog group Countable the other day asking “us” (i.e., right-minded people) what advice we would give Trump.  They required you to make a video, which I’m not equipped to do, but I did have some advice for the ersatz president:

(a)          RESIGN.

(b)          Divest all of your business holdings or put them in a truly blind trust, run by someone who is not a friend or family member (and especially not your children).

(c)           Release your taxes if you’ve got nothing to hide.

(d)          RESIGN.

I still find it hard to believe that so many people in this country were conned by this bozo (and continue to be – a recent poll said something like 96% of the people who voted for him are still behind him, despite his daily display of idiocy).  He is in a position of unimaginable power (especially given his party’s dominance in Congress and now the Supreme Court), and yet he is mind-bogglingly ignorant, incapable of thinking about anything outside of his own self-interested perspective.  He is, literally, a danger to democracy and the health and safety of the American people.  I saw a powerful post the other day by a guy named John Pavlovitz called “Let the Record Show” [http://johnpavlovitz.com/2017/01/19/let-the-record-show/?utm_campaign=coschedule&utm_source=facebook_page&utm_medium=John+Pavlovitz] that exactly captured my sentiments about him.  He is horrible in every way and at least once a day I am sickened by something he or one of his cohort has done.

(3)  This has been a very weird hockey season for me. I have barely listened to the Marek v. Wyshynksi podcast and I don’t obsessively read every article I can find on the interwebs, even after a win.  The Rangers had moments of real brilliance during the regular season, but especially toward the end they were playing some pretty damn boring hockey.  Maybe it’s because they had sewn up their preferred playoff spot quite a while ago (even if not officially, it was a reasonably foregone conclusion), crossing over into the Atlantic Division to play the “weaker” competition.  Their malaise on home ice has been pretty embarrassing at times.  So now that the playoffs have begun, when I normally would be pumped to the gills and thinking about it every waking minute, it almost became an afterthought. (Well, not exactly, but Rangers hockey hadn’t been generating the enthusiasm in me it once did.)

But in the first round, against the Montreal Canadians, they managed to regroup to play some impressive hockey after a real stinker of a Game 3, their first game in the Garden, which scared all of us fans into thinking that maybe the MSG curse was real.  In fact, I would describe their last three games in the series – all wins – as “mature.”  It probably has something to do with the reams of playoff experience this team (led by their coach) has, so they know what to expect.  That is just one of what I believe are their four keys to their success, which have been ignored by seemingly every professional pundit (and even the amateurs), even considering that I’ve been reading and listening to less commentary than usual.  When I do read and listen, no one ever gives the Rangers credit for these things:

(a)          The aforementioned playoff experience – according to The Hockey News, in the past five years, New York has played in 13 playoff series, better than Pittsburgh (11) and Los Angeles (12) and tied with Chicago. [Ryan Kennedy, “Rangers Mix of Depth, Youth and Experience Makes Them A Playoff Darkhorse,” The Hockey News, 3/13/17, http://www.thehockeynews.com/news/article/rangers-mix-of-depth-youth-and-experience-makes-them-a-playoff-darkhorse%5D.

(b)          The fact that, all season long, their play has improved as the game has gone on.  Look at their scoring this season by period:  first period, 62 goals; second period, 85 goals; third period, 101 goals, which led the NHL pretty much all season, only overtaken at the end by Pittsburgh with 103.  And yes, you’d like to see a better start out of them, especially at home, but a solid second and third period will overcome a less-than-stellar first period almost every time.

(c)           They were the best road team in the NHL, at 27-12-2, which really helps when you have your struggles at home.

(d)           They have incredible scoring depth.  I admit that I have heard this from some folks lately, particularly since AV inserted the Russian rookie Pavel Buchnevich into the lineup and now is able to roll four lines that can all generate offense.  They can match up against anyone, because if their first, second and third lines get nullified by the opposition, up comes the fourth line – with the two dependable Swedes, Oscar Lindbergh and Jasper Fast, and speedster and free-agent bargain Michael Grabner, who gets at least one breakaway a game – to chip in a goal or two.

So even though no one gave the Rangers much of a chance to be the ultimate champs this year, and while I am unabashedly biased, I think they’re in a great position to go all the way this year (finally!)  1994 was a long time ago, and King Henrik isn’t getting any younger.  It’s the last diamond he needs for his crown.

As a purist, I appreciate that the best hockey is made up of equal parts excitement and frustration in crazy momentum swings, but I also enjoy dominant performances, where a team is firing on all cylinders, making the opposition look like minor leaguers, in total control in every area of the ice.  During the playoffs, you don’t see too many of those types of games because the teams are so evenly matched – these are the best of the best, the last teams standing after a grueling 82-game season.  Of course the competition is going to be more fierce, the skill levels more balanced.  There’s also got to be some adversity at certain points in a playoff season, where you think your team is done but then they rise from the ashes, or the ultimate prize wouldn’t have such great value in the end.  It’s just one series of excellent hockey after another, four series in all, until you finally get to raise the Cup.  Man, I love playoff hockey!

(4)  I have recently been revisiting (in my mind) the “why” of this blog, now that my second anniversary has passed. It was a creative outlet, to be sure, and a promise to myself to “get my writing out into the world,” even if no one in the world (or very few people) actually read it.  Apart from a few posts of a link on Facebook, I’ve never really publicized it; in fact, I’m still a little afraid to, even though I think some of the stuff I’ve written in this blog over the past two years is decent enough.  But is it decent enough to actually convince someone to publish it more widely?  Is there anyone outside of my small circle of friends and family (and a few loyal WordPress compatriots) that would pay money to read it?  This is highly doubtful.  So there my aspirations lie (or die, as the case may be).

But it got me thinking about why people do things in life, and I’ve come to the conclusion that people do things for two reasons:  (a) they enjoy it or (b) it’s a means to an end, which is usually enjoyment.  I certainly have enjoyed writing my blog, although sometimes I feel self-imposed pressure to PRODUCE SOMETHING WEEKLY.  On the one hand, it’s good for me to push myself; on the other, there are no rules here!  This is a safe place, a free and easy space, meant to be enjoyable – and it truly IS.  I love to write my blog posts.  Sometimes they flow like water; sometimes they’re more work, especially if I don’t have a particular topic in mind (all the more reason to have a “stockpile” of blog posts that don’t necessarily need to be topical or timely).

I also started my blog because I presume that some of the things that I have to say are important.  I believe I have a positive, progressive world view that I hope/wish more people on this planet would share.  In other words, if more people thought like me, the world would be a much better place for more people.  And if I could change one mind, get one mind to think differently about something important (or even not so important, but at least important to that one mind), then I would feel as if I had accomplished something good on the karmic scale.  It’s a little frustrating knowing that I’m always preaching to the choir, but maybe, someday, someone will read something I’ve written and, as Urge Overkill once famously sang in “Sister Havana”, “come around to my way of thinking.”

Things That Bring Me Joy

Like some of my favorite TV shows, my blog went on hiatus for Thanksgiving week.  It was certainly not planned or intentional.  I just failed to come up with anything to write about or the time to write it.

Truth be told, I’ve been in kind of a deep, dark lethargy these past few weeks.  It’s partially the election and the all-encompassing feeling of dread I have for what’s ahead for this nation.  [On that front, I read  an interesting interview with Robert Reich today that outlines in detail the things we all have to fear from a Trump presidency:  Danny Feingold, “Conversations on Trump’s America: Robert Reich Previews a New Era of Savage Inequality”, Capital and Main website, 11/29/16, http://capitalandmain.com/conversations-on-trumps-america-robert-reich-previews-a-new-era-of-savage-inequality-1129%5D  I avoid the news because I hate having to look at his face, let alone listen to the crap coming out of his mouth (or the mouths of his surrogates – that Kellyanne Conway person in particular gives me the heebie-jeebies, but she may be on her way out, evidently).  I’m just waiting for my call to action, because I know it’s coming.

It might also be the too-early arrival of night since we turned back the clocks a few weeks ago.  Not enough sunlight means not enough energy for Nan.  When it gets dark at like four o’clock in the afternoon, I just want to cuddle up on the sofa with a couple of cats and zone out in front of the TV, but IT’S ONLY FOUR O’CLOCK!!  And of course I can never wake up in a timely enough fashion to take advantage of the earlier arrival of daylight.

But in the midst of these doldrums, I still manage to find little bits of joy to sustain me. Beginning on January 1st of 2016, I’ve been diligently recording, every night before I go to bed, at least one thing that gave me joy that day.  Believe me, some days it isn’t easy, and I do have to admit to writing “No joy today” on a number of occasions.  But I’ve been pretty consistent about it, so I feel like I’m at least making an effort to stay positive even when I feel myself slipping into depression.

My joys fall into four main categories:

(1)  My various companion animals, both at home and at the shelter.  Without question, animal contact has given me more moments of happiness than probably anything else.  There’s nothing better than stroking the cheeks and chin of a cat at creating mutual bliss between the participants.

(2)  Things on TV, like new seasons of my favorite shows, like “Shameless”, “Project Runway”, “Ink Master”, and of course “Game of Thrones”, which I miss terribly.  Seriously?  We have to wait till the summer for its return??  I’ll have to console myself with . . .

(3)  The Rangers and, to a lesser extent, the New York Football Giants.  Like Sunday, for example – no joy on the Ranger front, as they were shut out by an Ottawa Senators team that played ITS game better than the Rangers played THEIRS, but at least the Giants won, pretty convincingly after a slow start, a game they were supposed to win.  Odell Beckham Jr.’s elation when he scores touchdowns (even if it’s called back, like the one he scored on a punt return) is just contagious.  Yesterday, because they were in Cleveland, he had concocted a little Lebron James tribute where he pantomimed the thing that Lebron does where he throws out the powder or fairy dust or whatever it’s supposed to be.  Although I must confess that the Rangers are also responsible for entries like (from April 21), “Not only NO JOY but DESPONDENCY; Rangers were embarrassingly lethargic.  No work = no money, too much food – I didn’t have ANY joy today.”

(4) FOOD.  Yes, I admit it – food gives me joy.  Sometimes it’s the only thing in a day for which I can muster appreciation.  My weekly chicken souvlaki platter with Israeli salad from Abe’s Pitaria is a constant, especially when I can pair it with yummy frozen yogurt (with multiple toppings) from Tutti Frutti.  Desserts of all kinds, Digiornio’s stuffed crust pepperoni pizza, dinners out with friends – some of my greatest moments are comestible-related.

There’s other stuff, too, that doesn’t quite fall into any of those categories.  A magnificent Long Beach sunset during one of my Boardwalk power walks; listening to the perfect song as I’m riding my bike (R.I.P. big blue bicycle – I’ll get a new one when I move back home and can actually store it inside so it doesn’t die from rust rot, like my former bike did); a visit with a good buddy I haven’t seen in a while.  Even something as seemingly insignificant as finding a good parking spot can make it into the Joybook.

Sometimes I can’t evoke “joy” per se, but on those days I record what I think of as “contentedness”, like one day in September when the weather was gorgeous, I kept up with my walking regimen (which, I confess, has fallen by the wayside, another victim of my recent lack of motivation) and I managed to earn $500.

But what this whole exercise has done for me is forced me to appreciate the small moments in life.  Joy doesn’t present itself in big chunks; it comes in little snippets, and if you’re hustling and bustling mindlessly through your days, or solely focused on the downswings, you’ll miss those precious moments.

So the little Celtic Daybook that my friend André gave me way back in 1990, that I’ve been holding on to blankly for all that time, has finally gotten filled (with only one more month to g0).  Even in this awful year, I still managed to find quite a few things that brought me joy.  And now I need to get a new daybook for 2017, because I’m afraid we’re in for a bumpy ride, so joyful moments will come at a premium and must be memorialized and cherished at all costs.

Why I Hate Hockey

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.

Sleepwalking into the Playoffs

I am mystified by the New York Rangers.

They had multiple opportunities to put what Coach Alain Vigneault calls the “checkmark” by their name as permanently in possession of a playoff spot, against non-playoff teams Carolina and Buffalo last week, but somehow fell into deep holes in both games from which they were not able to recover, despite turning on the boosters in the latter stages of  each contest.  If this is an indication of the Rangers’ thinking that they can just generate offense at will and score goals in bunches when they let inferior teams (let alone equal or superior teams) get ahead of them, well, I suppose these games have been “wake up” calls (although you wouldn’t have thought they’d need TWO “wake up” calls, but I guess we’re all guilty of pressing the snooze button occasionally).

Fortunately, they finally had some success against the lowly Columbus Blue Jackets and the limping Tampa Bay Lightning last night and tonight in back-to-back games, getting the checkmark and solidifying third place, but having blown home ice advantage despite being in second place for much of the season.  In fact, the Tampa game tonight started off perilously like the two games against Carolina and Buffalo, with the Rangers going down by two goals and being thoroughly outplayed and outshot in the first period.  But the boys found their legs, and Henrik kept them in it (as he often does), Derek Stepan has stepped up his game for sure, and Chris Krieder has emerged from the fog he’s been in all season to show some signs of the brilliance his physical gifts allow him, and they managed to put the Lightning to bed.

Unlike their closest competitors, the Penguins and Islanders, the Rangers had been reasonably healthy.  Well, at least to our knowledge – teams have a tendency to hide the bumps and bruises at this time of year; but as long as the boys can still lace up the boots and know which direction to skate in, they’ll be out on the ice for every game – and at least until last night, when our captain and arguably our best defenseman suffered some sort of “upper body injury” (i.e., RIGHT HAND) and is unlikely to be 100% by the time the playoffs begin next week.  And then tonight, in the waning minutes of a 3-2 game, former Ranger and current Bolt Brian Boyle used his behemoth body to shove Dan Girardi into the boards, which resulted in a groggy “G” having to be helped off the ice, looking much the worse for his collision with the boards.  But in general, missing key players due to injuries can’t be the Rangers’ excuse.

My mother used to recite a nursery rhyme to me when I was being a naughty kid:  “There was a little girl who had a little curl/Right in the middle of her forehead/And when she was good, she was very, very good/But when she was bad, she was horrid.”  The 2015-16 New York Rangers are the little girl with the curl.  They’ve put up masterful efforts (beating the Blues and the Stars, two of the Western Conference’s strongest teams, “in their own barns”, as Derek Stepan likes to say), assembling an impressive 26-9-4 home record through 80 games and sending the fans home happy most nights (except, of course, for the one night Darian and I were there and also one game that Darian went to with a friend; in both of those games, as if to spite those of us low-rent fans who can only afford to attend a couple of in-person games a season, the Rangers stunk up the place).

But when they should be revving up to head into the playoffs – the REAL season – as strong as they can be, with confidence, clicking on all cylinders after a season of getting their timing down and familiarizing themselves with one another, they suddenly got LAZY, careless, unwilling to show the killer instinct that teams need at this time of year.  Even King Henrik, usually a dependable stalwart, has looked somewhat disinterested and pissy.

Maybe it’s all a ruse.  After all, these same Rangers, with very few new pieces, have gone deep into the playoffs in four of the last five seasons.  They must have learned some lessons.  They MUST know what they need to do.  So maybe they’re playing a rope-a-dope game with their opponents, pretending to be less-than-stellar so they can surprise the Pens and the Caps, like “Where were THESE Rangers all season long?”  Well, clearly they were saving themselves for the playoffs.  That’s what I’m hoping, anyway, even if it might be a bit delusional.

Check back with me in a couple of weeks to see what kind of mood I’m in where Rangers and playoff hockey is concerned.  It’s so embarrassing to me that the Rangers’ performance has an actual effect on my demeanor and state of mind for the entire day after.  As I’ve said previously [“Hockey:  An Obsession”, 4/21/15 – note that it was around this same time LAST season, when the boys were well on their way to making me suffer on their way to being eliminated by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Conference Finals), being so invested in something over which I have ABSOLUTELY NO CONTROL borders on insanity.  But I wouldn’t have it any other way, and I’ve even infected my child with the same affliction (although she fortunately only has a mild form).

And I must admit, they have looked much better the last two games (or at least for 5 of the 6 periods).  Their special teams are sharper than they’ve been all season, which is a real boon, especially in the playoffs when the teams are more on par with one another and the coaches often engage in chess matches.  An opportunity on the power play – or, alternatively, a huge penalty kill – can make a huge difference in the outcome of a game.

As always, I’m looking forward to the “second season.”  Rangers beat writer Steve Zipay of Newsday quoted Van Morrison lyrics to describe the upcoming playoff season:  “You make it to spring / And there’s no bed of roses / Just more hard work and bad company . . . “ (Steve Zipay, “As always, expectations high for Rangers come playoff time”, Newsday, 4/2/16, http://www.newsday.com/sports/columnists/steve-zipay/as-always-expectations-high-for-rangers-come-playoff-time-1.11646333).  There are sudden death moments and epic one-on-one battles over the course of up to seven straight games against the same opponent.  The NHL playoffs provide some of the most exciting sports action of ANY kind, no matter how the Rangers fare, although of course I’m a believer!  If not now, when?

Some Random Thoughts in Early February

Of course I’ve failed at my resolutions for the new year. Making wholesale changes in your life is very, very difficult, even when you know how much better things will be if you can manage to make those changes.

One of those resolutions was, of course, to improve my diet but, to the contrary, I’ve been eating a ridiculous amount of food lately.  I don’t think it’s a “winter hibernation” thing, because after the blizzard of a few weekends ago, the weather has been unseasonably mild.  It’s been well into the 50s both days in February so far, and it’s supposed to go up to a rainy 60 degrees tomorrow (although they’re saying a chill will follow).  [An aside:  I remember when we lived in Charlotte, North Carolina, there would be a tease of spring in February (although a final cold snap would inevitably sneak through in March, chilling all the budding trees and early spring flowers), and I would actually start to feel less SAD (not “sad”, although that’s sometimes how I feel, but SAD – that is, seasonal affective disorder, some of the symptoms of which are feeling logy, lethargic, lazy, sleepy and just generally unenthused about life).]

The other day I ate so much – and so much CRAP – that I literally felt sick to my stomach, like a little kid who’d eaten too much Halloween candy in a single sitting.  I definitely need to get back on nutritional track:  adding protein, cutting carbs.  And I also need to start a walking regime.  With the weather so temperate, I have no excuses (even though I COULD use some better footwear . . .).  Although I must say, the other day I created something scrumptious:  a Thomas’ Maple French Toast English Muffin topped with crunchy peanut butter and a sliced banana and drizzled with honey.  Oh, man, that was good!  But what happened as soon as I was done?  I found myself in the fridge, looking for MORE FOOD.  It wasn’t that I was hungry; I just wanted the TASTE to continue.  Someone needs to channel Willy Wonka and create a gum or mint that mimics delicious food so that you don’t actually have to EAT it to experience the taste (without turning purple like Violet Beauregarde).

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Any time I want to avoid work or some other unpleasantness, my worst procrastination tendency involves getting up from my desk and walking into the kitchen on a mission to find something to eat. Maybe, instead of eating, every time I get up I should pet and play with the “kids”:  fewer calories, more comfort and joy.  One or another of the beasts is looking for attention at any given moment, so it’ll be a win-win situation for everyone.

Which reminds me, one thing I HAVE been able to do in the new year is to keep a daily “joybook” in which, before I go to sleep, I write at least one thing that gave me joy that day.  I also say a quick prayer every night to the non-denominational Higher Power to give thanks for all those things I am grateful for in my life: my comfy bed, the roof over our heads, enough money in the bank to pay the bills, my companion creatures, my daughter safe and sound away at school, and my reasonably good health are usually what comprise my nightly litany of gratitude, but I’ll occasionally add something specific from the day just passed:  a pleasant visit with a friend, a successful blog post, a good Ranger game.  I see it as a way to project positive thoughts and feelings out into the universe before heading off to dreamland.  It certainly doesn’t hurt.

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Hockey returns tonight after a brief mid-winter break to accommodate the 2016 All-Star Game festivities, held this season in Nashville, Tennessee (a “non-traditional hockey market” that turned out to be a fantastic forum for the event).  What had become a boring, trite advertiser showcase was actually a lot of fun this year, in no small part due to the fan-vote campaign to get John Scott – behemoth, pugilist and “great in the room” fourth-liner who was at the time a member of the Arizona Coyotes but was then traded to Montreal and sent down to the minors (some say as the result of a shady league conspiracy) – into the game.  The greatest thing about “The John Scott Incident” was that the guy had a smile on his face THE WHOLE WEEKEND.  He clearly had the time of his life, and so did his wife (hugely pregnant with twins), and his two adorable little girls (in their ‘Yotes jerseys and pink tutus and tights), and his buddies (of which there were many, and even more now after they got to know him better in Nashville).  Despite his goonish reputation, I still consider John Scott an elite athlete, a professional who gets paid well to play a game for a living.  But in a way, he is more like US, and his experience at the ASG was more like if Herman Q. Beer League went to the All-Star Game and was allowed to play with the “big boys,” sort of akin to how excited my chiropractor gets when he plays pick-up hockey with a journeyman NHL-er like Arron Asham (who had the distinction of playing for every team in the erstwhile Atlantic Division before it was morphed into the Metropolitan Division following the league’s realignment in 2012).  There wasn’t a single camera shot of the guy where he didn’t have a huge grin on his face, and we were all able to experience his enjoyment vicariously.

So, even though I was looking forward to the resumption of the regular season for nearly a week, it didn’t take long (one game) for me to have my hopes dashed for a Rangers return to form post-All-Star break.  All season long they have had a maddening tendency to squander their opportunities.  Chance after chance – BLOWN.  For starters, their special teams have been uniformly awful.  The key to success in a game like hockey, especially as they move into the post-season where there’s less and less separating the teams, is to take advantage of the other team’s mistakes, so special teams play and making opponents pay for their defensive errors become vital.  But I can’t tell you how many times in a typical Ranger game they fail to capitalize not only on their man-advantage opportunities but also two-on-ones, breakaways and wide open nets.  Tonight’s game against the Devils was a case in point.  Captain Ryan McDonagh made a great steal at the blue line and had a short-handed breakaway, which he somehow missed (I guess you could give the Devils’ goalie some credit), and then his teammates give up a power play goal with 5 seconds left in the penalty they were trying to kill – the second power play goal they let up in the game, as compared to an 0-for-4 performance on their own power play.  When will they develop the necessary sense of urgency, that killer instinct?  When they’re completely out of a playoff spot?  That situation is alarmingly close at hand.  I do not enjoy watching hockey when it’s this frustrating.  And yet I’ll be there in front of the TV again on Thursday, full of hopeful anticipation:  Will tonight be the night they finally get their shit together?

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January ended much the way it began – with the death of a dear friend, this one I actually knew (unlike my “friend” David Bowie). She was way too young (i.e., my age) and succumbed after a valiant battle with a recurrent, insidious cancer.  The world lost a special person, a loving mother, wife, nurse and friend.  Although I didn’t know her as well as I would have liked due to time and distance, I will miss her beautiful, always-smiling face.  Rest in peace, Rhonda Caputo Speranza.

The death of someone your age brings it home more intensely that you have to live every day with a purpose.  I often think about why we’re here on this planet, why we’ve been given these lives to live.  It can’t be just to perpetuate the species biologically; it must involve, somehow, our intellectual and spiritual evolution as a civilization as well (although I’m DEFINITELY not talking about organized religion, but that’s another post for another day).  I mean, look at everything we’ve done in the past few thousand years, let’s say from the time of the Romans (who were remarkably advanced in their day) until today.  Our technological breakthroughs have been exponential.  We are able to do and create things that people who lived thousands of years ago could not have even imagined (except for maybe Leonardo da Vinci).  But we continue to pollute with no consideration of our limited resources or our fellow humans, quite as badly as (if not even worse than) our ancestors, who didn’t know any better what consequences their waste and pillage of the earth would have.  And of course we still make war with regularity and otherwise find ways to steal from and kill each other.  That’s something that doesn’t seem to change about human nature.  But while that kind of thinking just makes me feel impotent and insignificant, I often wonder what I role I could possibly have in furthering mankind’s development.  I brought a child into the world, so there’s my basic biological imperative satisfied; but on a deeper level, what can I, Nancy Lucas – I and only I – do to make the world a better place?  What gifts have I been given that I must use to fulfill my purpose in life?  A friend recently posted something (without attribution, I’m afraid) on Facebook that I liked.  It said:  “Everyone has been made for some particular work, and the desire for that work has been put in every heart.”  But why is my heart keeping that desire such a well-hidden secret?  After 56 years, you would have thought my heart would have spoken by now (or, if it’s been speaking all along, that I’d finally be able to hear it).

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!!

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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).