And another thing. Fighting. That's something Garden fans can appreciate. But the Rangers had only six major penalties after 24 games and were about 300 penalty minutes behind their pace of last year. None of the fans seems to mind, because the Rangers are so obviously giving their all. "I just don't buy the theory that you're going to win by intimidation," says Brooks. "There can be a kind of reverse intimidation that says you can punch me all night but I'm still going to keep coming, I'm still going to be there. Maybe the fans that like the fighting are going to go, 'Ah!' and walk away. But there are four or five guys waiting in line for those tickets."
Maloney agrees: "Maybe if you change your product, you change your fans."
One hopes that's true. A recent Rangers-Islanders game on Long Island provided some of the best hockey in years. The Islanders won 4-3, but afterwards Brooks was flushed with the excitement of the game. "It's coming," he said. "It takes time, but it's coming."
The next night at the Garden, the Islanders blew the Rangers out 7-2, causing Brooks to shake his head and say, "We're like the little girl in that nursery rhyme—when we're good, we're very, very good, but when we're bad...."
He left a note on the Rangers' blackboard saying the next day's practice was optional. Brooks has talked to a sport physiologist who has convinced him that one day off a week is optimal for an athlete's conditioning, and he tries to adhere to that. Beneath the notice about practice, Brooks had written: "The best things are always the most difficult."