Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned in 1985. His SportsWatch column debuted in 2005.
WASHINGTON - Hockey can be a bit confusing for the uninitiated. (Meet me after class for extra help on the icing rule.) But its most essential act is simple enough for a toddler to understand.
One team tries try to direct a vulcanized rubber disc that is one inch thick and three inches in diameter into a 6-foot-by-4-foot goal, and the other tries to prevent that from happening.
Trouble is, the hockey gods do not always reward teams that play well, a fact of life the Rangers found themselves confronted with Tuesday as they practiced for Game 4 of their second-round playoff series Wednesday night against the Capitals.
On one hand, they correctly noted they did many things right in a 1-0 loss in Game 3. On the other, they correctly noted no one will care about that if they fail to advance.
So even as coach Alain Vigneault acknowledged hockey is "made of bounces," some good and some bad, it is up to those paid to play it to bounce back.
"This is a result-oriented business," he said. "You can play real well, do the right things . . . but at the end of the day, you expect Marty St. Louis to find the back of the net. You expect Rick Nash to find the back of the net. You expect Derick Brassard to help those two guys and himself find the back of the net."
Let's see how that's going: St. Louis has not scored a goal in the playoffs. Nash has one, a late, mostly meaningless tally in a loss to the Penguins. Brassard has four -- twice as many as anyone else on the roster.
Brassard and Nash are tied with five total points, which entering Tuesday night's games had them in a 17-way tie for 28th place among the league playoff scoring leaders -- some of whom did not even reach the second round.
The Rangers have 15 goals in eight games and are 4-for-28 on power plays.
This cannot go on much longer, and they know it.
Exhibit A is Nash, whose 42 goals in the regular season were no fluke. He was the Rangers' best non-goalie in Game 3 and finished with seven shots on goal.
Someone asked him Tuesday if he was pleased by that.
"I'd be pleased if we were winning and I was scoring," he said. "But I feel like it's close and I'm happy with my game. It's just frustrating when the puck doesn't go in the net."
Is it fair that Nash usually is the point man for criticism during scoring skids? "That's the way it is," he said. "The high-paid guys who are supposed to score are supposed to in the playoffs, and when that doesn't happen, that's to be expected."
It was evident listening to the Rangers talk in a dozen directions about what they must do to fix this that they really don't have a clear idea themselves beyond the obvious.
"It sounds like a broken record, but it's the traffic, it's outworking them," Nash said.
Marc Staal said the only solution to the Capitals' big defensemen blocking shots is to make quick plays before they can get set up to do so.
When Derek Stepan first said the Rangers played well Monday and then said they must make adjustments, I asked why they would bother if it's just a matter of having better luck next time.
In other words, what exactly is the adjustment? "Maybe at times work hard, maybe at times it could be a positioning thing," he said. "There's a number of things."
Hockey people hate to hear this, but its wins and losses follow a less logical path than those of most other sports, which is part of its charm. The problem is that being on the wrong end of that only makes the pain worse.
What to do?
"Just keep generating scoring chances -- ugly ones, nice ones, whatever it is," St. Louis said. "We have to find a way to turn our chances into goals. At some point, they'll go in."
Wednesday night would be a good idea.