Doesn't happen. The Rangers can rarely string together two or three consecutive passes these days. The only guy who can pass is this guy Alexandre Daigle, a Prodigal Son-type who is still said to be on thin ice, according to rickety head coach John Muckler. (Daigle has also been linked romantically to Alanis Morissette. Thank you Canada.)
The New York Post has chosen to play up the Rangers' grit and grime as sign of their transformation from a country-club team of sandbaggers to a lunchpail squad. It's not clear whether there is enough Dr. Frankenstein medical equipment and enough thunder and lightning coming through the roof of the Garden to pull off that type of switcheroo.
This small Ranger unbeaten streak is just the usual blueshirt brinkmanship around the holiday season. It's a sorry punchbowl nog lumpy with equal parts boredom and obscurity. And any team that is being coached by Euell Gibbons will be able to get by on just a handful of hickory nuts or pine bark.
Muckler stands behind the bench resembling Gibbons more than a threatened NHL coach. Gibbons, the late expert on wild edible plants, used to hawk Grape Nuts cereal with the opening line "I'm Euell Gibbons. Ever eat a pine tree?"
Muckler has Rangers fans eating more than their share of compost these days, what with the injuries and all. No Brian Leetch, and not to mention down time by Valeri Kamensky or Petr Nedved. Can the Rangers get by with Adam Graves, Mike Richter and rookie Mike York? Can they keep borrowing Big Apple Circus smoke-and-mirrors in the form of non-center Tim Taylor and his litany of Jerry Lewis-style boxing injuries?
But back to Muckler. One of the saddest sights at the Garden happened behind the Rangers bench back in November. Rangers versus Boston in a rare Saturday night game. Muckler had brought his sleepy team out for the third period, as he is obliged to do by the rule book. As the warmups concluded, the Rangers equipment guys were tossing soiled hockey gloves into a bin near the tunnel end of the bench. Routine trainer and equipment manager housecleaning. Except this time one of throws was errant and a red-white-and-blue Bauer glove?all galvanized leather and steel?smacked Muckler right in the face.
It was one of those oh if only it was a Nerf moments. Muckler's hands flew to his forehead and he blindly staggered away from the bench and back into the tunnel for a good three minutes. His obvious pain went unseen by the phantom 18,200 fans who are always listed in the Rangers boxscore. (Really it was more like 13,000, tops.) Assistant coaches would turn to look down the tunnel while maintaining the shift-changing schedule and the game's pathetic flow. Trainers shrugged, bench players shrugged?and eventually they forgot to keep looking down the tunnel. Muckler reappeared without fanfare with a good five minutes gone in the period, and the Rangers went on to lose to the Bruins, 5-2. The lesson here: It's okay to bean the coach in the face with a sweaty hockey glove.
What the Rangers do best now is patch together shifts with duct tape. For at least the first two periods of their November and December games, they looked like the MetroStars on ice. Or so it appeared at the Dec. 6 tilt against Calgary. The Rangers waited until the final 45 seconds of the game to tie it, then won it in overtime just 32 seconds into the additional period. They sent the Flames, with their Mephisto alternate jerseys, into the visiting locker room with defeat in their faces.
In the middle of the third period, there was a video of Tim Taylor reading the interactive trivia question on the DiamondVision. His enthusiasm at an all-time low, he mumbled the question in his best Steven Wright imitation. "Have some coffee!" someone yelled from section 310. The selected fan missed the trivia question, which had to do with Tomas Sandstrom and hat tricks. No one ever misses those trivia questions. That's how bad it's getting at Ranger games?people are starting to miss the softball trivia questions. But Taylor saved the day with his OT tally to win it.
Two nights later, the Rangers pulled the same overtime victory act against the Flames' Alberta brethren?the Oilers. Fleury had a goal, but admitted later he was going for the right post instead of the five-hole, where the puck eluded former Isles goalie and Barry Manilow lookalike Tommy Salo.
The Calgary game had started with an early cheap shot on Taylor by Denis Gauthier of the Flames. The refs missed the call, but two days later, the league officials didn't, slapping a two-game suspension on Gauthier faster than you can say "Donatella Versace." The surprise this time was that in the wake of Gauthier's shiv, the Rangers actually seemed peeved. After watching them ignore Wayne Gretzky getting knocked around last season, it was good to see them show some vengeful fire against the Flames. They still couldn't score, but each stoppage of play featured facefuls of leather glove scrapings, stick-butt-end tussles, shirt-grab shoving matches and ref-interrupted half-skirmishes. Enough to exhaust the other team just so, much like a cheap prizefighter with a ploy torn out of the back pages of the Everlast How To Box handbook. The big fight never came in the Calgary game.
So Daigle, with his silent letters in his name (it's Daig, as in Haig, but he's no general?yet) is passing the puck well and trying to get it to this nubile York, who's been putting up unlikely numbers for a Mike York, who is not to be confused with the former Pittsburgh Pirates hurler.
Daigle has a checkered past dating back to problems with Ottawa, the Flyers and Tampa Bay. The laundry list reads something like not hustling, cashing big checks and partying. Daigle had used the fall of '99 to become the king of Hartford. So his character-building trail starts in the Canadian capital as the highly touted draft pick, then to Philly, then to Tampa, then to Hartford. And now he's on old Broadway.