Jane here to introduce our special guest blogger, a (former) hockey writer who looms large over this blog even though he doesn’t live here anymore. Ladies and gentleman, the Great Sam Weinman:
I am grateful to Carpie and Jane for letting me swing back by the old blog, a corner of cyberspace that I’m still adjusting to life without.
Not that I’m complaining about the new gig. But after the privilege of talking, writing, and thinking about hockey (very often in that order) incessantly the previous few years, it’s not the same sharing my thoughts with a) a wife who only tolerates hockey, and b) two young boys who barely grasp the concept of keeping score.
A typical conversation goes something like this:
Me (jumping up and down): Can this power play be any worse?
My wife: Sit down. You’re scaring the children.
But now it’s the playoffs, and both wife and children are beginning to understand that everything takes on a deeper meaning. On Wednesday night, before we headed over to watch Game 1 against the Capitals with my father, I explained to my 4-year-old son Charlie a long-time playoff-watching ritual of my Dad’s: if the Rangers are losing, you are not permitted to sit in the same seat. If the Rangers are winning, you are not permitted to move.
At that point Charlie took on a quizzical expression, as if he was contemplating a dark and twisted side of his grandfather that he had never seen before.
But he made it through on Wednesday, and so did the Rangers. And now after stealing a game in Washington against the Capitals, it’s worth asking whether this group has any sort of run in it this spring.
My typically nuanced answer: Yes. I think. Let me get back to you.
But first, a few random thoughts on the team since I went back to being just a fan:
<li>The coaching change. It’s no secret in my time covering the team that I was a Tom Renney supporter. After all those depressing seasons that ended the first week of April, Renney was the coach who returned the Rangers to respectability, and he did it with a level of decency that is often missing in professional sports. But what became apparent after a while was that this group needed the type of kick-in-the-pants that Renney couldn’t provide.
In short, when your team is comprised of giants of the game like Jagr and Shanahan, then a coach who is going to allow veterans some latitude is a perfect fit. But when your group is clearly lacking a spark both on and off the ice, then you need a fiery presence to fill the void.
I am dubious of what kind of long-term shelf life John Tortorella will have since he’s been known to ride his players into the ground. But this season, he’s exactly what the Rangers needed.
<li>As for Tortorella’s system, I doubt I’m breaking any new ground when I say it is infinitely more entertaining. Tortorella’s pressure system is more up-tempo, it allows his skill players to take greater chances, and it at least subconsciously has players on their toes as opposed to their heels (which is another way of saying the Rangers are now playing “to win” as opposed to “not to lose”).
Given that the Rangers still lack a team-wide scoring touch, I worry about what happens if they get bottled up by a patient, defensive-minded team like the Bruins. But against the Capitals, especially since they boast the superior goaltender (Hey Jose Theodore, this is a puck. Have you guys met?) I think they can afford to open it up.
<li>Sean Avery. OK, I admit it: I was one of those guys who thought the Rangers were smart in not re-signing Avery, mostly because I thought — to an even greater extent than Tortorella — that his act would wear thin over time. But the bizarre confluence of events earlier this season seems to have alleviated the problem. For one, the Rangers are currently on the hook for only half of Avery’s salary, so even if things erupt, say, a year from now, it won’t be as costly. But secondly, by all accounts Avery seems to be a different person. Still a vastly underrated skater, still a world-class pest (I admit, I laughed out loud a few weeks back when he whacked Tim Thomas from behind and pretended like he didn’t know what happened), he isn’t the in-house disruption that he once was. Don’t get me wrong: I always liked covering him. But the very reasons I liked covering him — i.e. the constant drama swirling around him — is the same reason why the Rangers were at first happy to see them go.
But now after a suspension and some requisite soul-searching, he’s the precise mixture of boring (off the ice) and excitable (on the ice) that the Rangers seem to need.
<li>Plenty more to discuss, but I’ve gone long enough. So for now, I leave you with this:
Does anybody have any extra tickets for Monday night?