On Saturday morning Keith Gessen published a piece over at N+1 about the NHL playoffs. It is exactly as funny and insightful and frustrating as everything Keith Gessen publishes. He riffs on Jaromir Jagr (“his long torso always bent forward from his giant ass so he could reach the puck”), Alexander Ovechkin (“graceless… like he’s trying to dig a hole in [the ice]), how to cut down on concussions in the sport (“I’d outlaw blocked shots”) and, of course, some slightly bigger-picture stuff (“Is hockey meaningless? Is life meaningless?)
He also takes some shots at the New York Rangers, a local hockey team (they play upstairs at Penn Station) currently on a playoff run that has captivated the city nearly as much as the Mets turning out to be ever so slightly less terrible (for now) than people said they’d be. They beat the Senators in a hard fought seven-game series, and on Saturday, defeated the Washington Capitals in another game seven. Tonight, they kick off the Eastern Conference final against local rivals the New Jersey Devils. Gessen, though, does not seem likely to jump on the Rangers’ mostly non-existent bandwagon any time soon. Here’s what he has to say about them.
First you learn to skate; then shoot; then, much later, to look around and pass; and only then, to catch a pass. These are the stages of development and it sometimes feels like the Rangers haven’t reached the last stage. When they are on the powerplay, pucks bounce off their sticks, or over them—it takes a moment to recover, time is lost.
The Rangers do play an ugly game—as Gessen points out elsewhere, they dump, chase and cycle until something gives and they manage a scrappy, stuffed-in goal, which generally happens no more than two times per game. And yes, their power play has been atrocious, but not because of their inability to catch a pass. It’s been atrocious because they’ve barely maintained possession of the puck long enough for them to attempt a pass, let alone catch one.
In hockey, offensive zone pressure almost always eventually yields fruit—if not a goal, then a penalty from a tired defenseman. Then comes the powerplay, and even the Rangers can score on the powerplay.
Hasn’t it already established that, of the many things the Rangers can do, scoring on the powerplay is not one of them? (The two goals in 100 seconds to win game five against the Caps were far from expected.)
Of the top four, only the Rangers, who couldn’t hit a barn with a hockey puck if they were in it, remain.
Heh. Nice one. What’s interesting about this, though, is that if you look at the stats (which Gessen has little use for, he says), none of the four teams left is particularly adept at getting the puck where they want it to go. They rank 11th, 20th (the Rangers). 25th and 27th in shots on goal, and 11th (Rangers), 15th, 18th and 29th in goals scored. So it stands to reason, maybe, that of the remaining teams, the Rangers would actually be in the top half in terms of hitting barns with hockey pucks from within.
In the end the basic philosophical question is this: Can a team as profoundly untalented as the Rangers win the Stanley Cup?
We’ll find out soon enough, I guess. But it’s worth noting that a lot of teams would love to have a goaltender as profoundly untalented as Henrik Lundqvist.