Rangers coach John Tortorella wanted much more out of Sean Avery. "There's a perception that we're holding him back," Tortorella said before last night's game. "That's the furthest thing we're doing."
Avery, who hadn't scored in 19 games, was wildly inconsistent and doing "a lot of circling back, in the end zone, in the neutral zone," the coach said. "We want him to be a north-south player, we want him to finish his checks, we want him to be the agitator that he is as an effective player, and I think the goals will come."
It sure seemed as if his first meeting with the Dallas Stars, the team that signed him to a four-year contract, then shunned and eventually waived him last season but still picks up some of his salary, pushed Avery to the edge that Tortorella sought.
Avery fired in a first-period power-play goal to tie the game at 1 at 5:39, added three assists - one on Marian Gaborik's 28th goal of the season - and got under the skin of Nicklas Grossman, Mike Modano, Steve Ott and Jere Lehtinen, as the Rangers knocked off the Stars, 5-2, for their second consecutive win at Madison Square Garden. It was the second four-point game for Avery in his eight-year career.
"He played great," said Ryan Callahan, whose empty-netter with 1:05 left was his 10th of the season. "No better way than to do it against your former team. He got some points and was in guys' faces and got them off their game."
Although Avery was unable to describe why he has had trouble getting untracked - his four previous goals came in two games - he understood the urgency.
"It was the way that Sean Avery needs to play," said Avery, who was in the starting lineup and was the last one off the ice as the game's first star. "I've been thinking about it a lot, and it's just the way it has to happen for me to be effective. I've got to stay consistent with it. I know that the support's there from my teammates when something happens that maybe shouldn't and know that the positives are going to outweigh the negatives. I can take a lot of good things out of tonight but it really doesn't mean anything unless I come back and play that way tomorrow."
Avery, who played 13:20, garnered a 10-minute misconduct for skating about 20 feet and bumping Lehtinen behind the net after Ales Kotalik ripped a long shot from the right point past Marty Turco at 8:23 for his second in two games and a 3-2 lead in the second.
In the third, Avery was again a factor. He was whistled for a hit from behind on Ott at 2:13, and on the ensuing 4-on-4, Henrik Lundqvist (25 saves) preserved the one-goal advantage with a pad stop on Jamie Benn's breakaway after Marc Staal coughed up the puck. Avery then drew a penalty in a battle with Stephane Robidas, which gave the Rangers (21-18-5) their sixth power play of the game.
Shortly after the Stars' fifth power play (they were 0-for-6) ended, Avery spun away from a check on the boards to the right of Turco and fired toward the crease where Chris Drury, driving to the net, deflected the puck past Turco for the 4-2 lead.
Asked specifically about the difference in this game and others, a glimpse of the old Avery persona emerged: "I was getting paid by two teams."