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My New York Rangers Fandom: Baking and Dying

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Pittsburgh Penguins v New York Rangers

Well, that was terrible. (NOTE: I wrote that sentence after the loss to the Penguins, but what do you know, it works for the Avs game, too!)

I’ve been writing this piece for the last two weeks. I just couldn’t finish it, because the Rangers kept upending any conclusion I tried to come to about who they are right now and how we, as fans, are supposed to watch them and not lose our minds. I was ALMOST on an upswing after the Blueshirts beat the Predators, and Henrik Lundqvist beat the Blues, but then Pittsburgh and Colorado happened. So here’s what I’ve got: it’s going to be terrible, except when it isn’t, and any joy we find in the good will be tempered, often immediately, by the return of the just plain awful. How’s that for an insight? (Hey, THIS ARTICLE IS FREE.)

The Rangers drove me to drink a long time ago; this year, they also drove me to bake. I can’t simply sit there and watch the one and two and three goal leads slip away, and tweeting can’t keep me from eating my cuticles/entire fingers (I’m down to seven). So I’ve taken to making pies and cookies and breads, anything to give my brain another track to run on while the debacles unfold onscreen.

Except, of course, that they aren’t always debacles. Leaving aside that lunatic streak back in October, my first trip to the Garden this year was for the jubilant comeback win against the Ducks, when Vladimir Namestnikov avenged getting blind-side rag dolled by Ryan Getzlaf with a tying goal. Ultimately, the game was won by the streaking, soon to be sold Kevin Hayes. (Did his streak end with Pittsburgh? I wouldn’t be surprised; it felt like everything else did.)

Rebuild or no rebuild, the curse of the Rangers – and thus their fans – is to almost be good enough, to almost win. All the overtimes. All the shootouts. All because to just lose would be too damn simple. (NOTE: As of two periods in on Friday night, they seem to have figured out how to just plain lose. Yay, I guess?) And all this almost-ing keeps our hearts in the games, long after our minds give up. We are Charlie Brown, and the Rangers are both Lucy and the football.

But we have to come to terms with this truth about any skill we see: none of it matters. None of it is real – not right now, anyway. A perfect play today only matters in terms of how it shapes tomorrow: by making available players (Chris Kreider, Kevin Hayes, Mats Zuccarello, Adam McQuaid, etc.) more valuable, thus worth better picks, or by previewing what the current babies will be capable of, once the team can actually contend.

So think of today’s Rangers as a sort of fourth ghost in “An NHL Christmas Carol”: they are the ghost of what they’re going to be. That’s the nature of a rebuild.

But rebuilds require hope, and the initial flush of joy upon David Quinn’s arrival has been tempered – to put it mildly – by deployment choices to rival Alain Vigneault’s most perverse moments: for instance, giving valuable ice time to Cody McLeod (whose presence did nothing to deter feces-on-ice Zac Rinaldo’s cheap head shot on Mika Zibanejad), and leaving a clearly struggling Lundqvist between the pipes after that miserable second period against the Pens. If Vigneault was still behind the bench, I’d think he’d left Lundqvist out there to take him down a peg, drain the wind from his sails. Quinn doesn’t seem like the vindictive type, but the result on the ice was the same.

My theory on Vigneault – on my kinder days, anyway – was that he didn’t have the parts to build the only machine he knew how to make. (Kevin Hayes, liberated from the defensive center role that machine demanded, has looked, dare I say it, elite.) Right now, I have no idea what David Quinn wants to make, other than me have an aneurysm.

So, how do we watch whatever this is? My brain might be able to take refuge in the stat math and contract calculation, but that’s not how I watch hockey. (If I was in it for the math, I’d be a baseball fan.) I watch hockey with my heart. Think about it: the pace of the game itself involves the heart – they call them “rushes” for a reason. I even found myself stress-skating during the final minutes of the Preds game, moving my socked feet in short little slashes, as if I could somehow help. Maybe I did!

Still, I could build a rink in my living room and it wouldn’t change the fact that this season is going to be difficult, in more ways than we knew. Are Quinn’s poor decisions the results of his inexperience at the NHL level? Is he trying to lose for Hughes? Or is the team in the hands of a coach who not only can’t make it better, but may actually make it worse?

CAN ANYONE EXPLAIN TO ME WHY MARC STAAL COULD PROBABLY PICK UP THE PUCK AND DELIBERATELY THROW IT IN HIS OWN NET, BUT STILL NOT SIT?

At least Quinn takes responsibility, which Vigneault never did. (According to Greg Joyce of the Post, he stated that the decision to keep Hank in against Pittsburgh “is all on me;” Hank, Hank-like, blamed himself.) For now, that’s something. But for whoever sat through the last two games, it’s not enough.

The players look as if the reality of the rebuild has finally hit them. In Colorado, they seemed disconnected and dispirited even before the goals against started to pile up. Who knows what’s going on in the room, but it’s hard to imagine morale getting much lower than it was last night. Maybe they’re just biding their time, waiting to see what the fire sale leaves behind. With the trade deadline nearly two months away, however, that’s a lot of biding, and I want to believe it won’t all look like last night.

Or will it?

It’s a new year. My freezer is already crammed with cookie dough, pie crusts, and banana bread, and there are still 43 games to go. I need a new way to watch the Rangers. We’ve been told they are being rebuilt/reborn, but right now, they look like they’re dying.