One of the many image problems that the NHL has when it comes to capturing the public's fascination is the moment that they choose to open their season every year.
Hockey returns to the scene just as the baseball season is entering its final, thrilling weeks and just as the NFL is getting into the meaty part of its own schedule. There are only so many hours in a day to spend watching sports, which leaves the NHL watched only by the diehards as bigger events dominate the landscape. That's the breaks when you're in the professional sports game, but it has actually done a bigger than usual disservice to the three local clubs than usual this year.
The Rangers and Islanders, back in their classic white uniforms, met on Monday afternoon in a holiday matinee that was a throwback to some of the old battles that used to turn MSG and Nassau Coliseum into war zones several times a year. There were a ton of goals, a missed penalty shot, some fights and a truly bizarre scene featuring Sean Avery and Islanders defenseman James Wisniewski during the 6-4 Islanders win.
Wisniewski and the noted Ranger agitator were jostling in front of the Islanders net after a whistle and got pulled apart by the officials. Nothing unusual there, but then Wisniewski chose to continue antagonizing Avery by making an obscene gesture universally recognized as a reference to oral sex. There's video of it here, which is obviously not for the children, and a great Avery quote after the game.
"They won't do anything. Imagine if I did that? They'd send me to rehab."
The Rangers loss took some of the good feeling away from their opener which featured a historic hat trick by rookie Derek Stepan. Stepan became just the fourth NHLer to record three goals in his debut game, a 6-3 win over the Sabres and U.S. Olympic hero Ryan Miller, and gave hope that the team might have finally found some offensive punch to go with Marian Gaborik up front.
Things were no less interesting for the men of New Jersey. The Devils lost a 7-2 rout to the Caps on opening night and saw $100 Ilya Kovalchuk throwing punches instead of scoring goals. That wasn't the idea when they signed him to a contract that left them with the bare minimum of 20 players on their initial roster because they lacked salary cap space. That became a problem when the Devils lost two forwards to injury and another to suspension, which left them with just 15 skaters for Monday's game with the Penguins.
Predictably they lost, a result that more than a few people cheered as a fitting rebuke for their attempt to circumvent the cap by signing Kovalchuk to a contract that runs out at about the same time his grandkids are being born.
Fun stuff and well worth checking out when you take a break from the Jets, Giants and Yankees.