There are plenty of reasons the Rangers have only won four of their last fourteen games. Henrik Lundqvist hasn’t been stealing many games, for example, and just about every forward not named Gaborik or Prospal is mired in a season-long slump. But here’s a question to ponder: Who’s that well-mannered guy in the No. 16 jersey, and what did he do with Sean Avery?
Avery is most valuable to this team when he’s getting under the skin of opponents, something he hasn’t been doing all season. Most teams have a guy who can drop his gloves, but no team has a player quite like Avery, who — when he’s on his game — can disrupt teams by talking, by drawing penalties, and sometimes even by scoring. (We’ve always thought that Avery had more hockey skills than people give him credit for.) But this year, he hasn’t been doing any of those things. At most, he’s creating traffic in front, but that’s not really enough. He’s been on his best behavior, and that’s not good. The Rangers can’t afford for Avery to be a model citizen. They need him to be a pain in the ass.
John Tortorella seems to grasp this. He told Larry Brooks last week that Avery’s job is “to play right on the edge.” What Tortorella leaves out, of course, is that he established during the playoffs last year that the price for going over the edge just a little bit is a de facto suspension. You’ll recall that after Avery took some bad penalties in Game 3 and 4 against Washington last year, Tortorella sent a statement by scratching Avery from the lineup in Game 5. (Hilariously, after benching Avery for his lack of discipline, Tortorella was suspended after Game 5 for squirting water at a fan behind the Rangers’ bench.) We almost don’t blame Avery for being afraid to cross the line, if those are the consequences.
Twice in the last three years, the Rangers have relied on the addition of Avery to revive their season. It’s been well documented how much more they win when he’s in the lineup. Perhaps if Sean Avery starts playing like Sean Avery, they can count on that same jump start again.