Perhaps because I’ve already irritated Rangers fans once this week by calling them delusional, I “sought out Marek Malik yesterday”:http://www.thejournalnews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070301/SPORTS01/703010420/1046/SPORTS to ask him about 1) the “A” Tom Renney awarded him with on Tuesday night; 2) his team-best plus-23 rating; and 3) the boos he’s been hearing on a nightly basis at the Garden.
Let’s start with that last one. For one thing, yes, Malik hears the boos, which is hardly surprising since there are pretzel salesmen on 8th Avenue who can hear the boos as well. And while the defenseman seemed to go to great lengths to tell me that it doesn’t bother him, the sheer volume of his answers argued otherwise.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I understand when itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a reaction when IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m playing bad. But when IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m playing good and I make a good pass or an assist and theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re still booing. For all the respect I have for the fans. I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t care about that,Ã¢â‚¬? Malik said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“I care about my teammates and what they think of me. They know IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m trying to do the best I can for them. Management and coaching staff know the same thing. They appreciate my work. With the fans, even if my stats are good, what else can I do? I can put them on my side with my play on the ice.Ã¢â‚¬?
What’s interesting about Malik is that he readily admits he may have deserved the harsh treatment at the start of the year, particularly after a loss to Florida in October when he was only slightly more effective than a pylon.
But a lot has changed since then. It’s true, Malik stil has an uncanny knack for missteps of the very noticeable and very damning variety. But on whole, his play has been better as the season has gone on. And while the plus/minus rating is certainly in part a reflection of the amount of time he plays with Jaromir Jagr’s line, it’s also a reflection on him, a defenseman who is actually much better than he’s given credit for.
Let’s be clear that I was one of those people who thought Malik was miserable earlier this year. But the reality is Malik has certainly been more reliable than both the puzzling Karel Rachunek and the recently departed Aaron Ward. And the other reality is the Rangers have actually been a better team with Malik in the lineup than without.
And that leads me to the boos. Like Malik, I understand them when they’re for a bad penalty or when he’s beat on a play. But when it’s after a good play — or even the other night, when his name was announced for an assist — I’m not sure that’s anything more than fans targeting a guy because of his size.
I suppose it’s worth mentioning that Malik has two young sons, and that he hangs their art work prominently in his locker. I’m sure the defenseman or his wife at some point had to explain to their sons that professional hockey players subject themselves to boos when they make bad plays.
What may be harder to explain is why they get booed for the occasional good ones, too.