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Expect Avery to be in middle of Isles game

New York Rangers left wing Sean Avery (16)

New York Rangers left wing Sean Avery (16) skates during the first period against the Boston Bruins at Madison Square Garden. (Nov. 17, 2010) Photo Credit: Christopher Pasatieri

Whenever irritant Sean Avery meets the Islanders, there's entertainment value, some of it more suited to adults.

James Wisniewski's vulgar gesture toward the chirping Avery in the last game between the teams - a 6-4 Rangers loss at Nassau Coliseum on Oct. 11 - resulted in a two-game suspension for the Islanders defenseman.

From trash-talking and shoving matches with Rick DiPietro to allegedly tossing profanities at Ice Girls to scraps with players such as Bruno Gervais to taunting GM Garth Snow in the hallway after an exhibition game in September 2007, Avery has been a noticeable, if not notable, figure in the cross-river rivalry.

Thursday night, when the Rangers visit Uniondale, Avery will start in a prominent role - on the Blueshirts' top line with Marian Gaborik and Erik Christensen.

Avery, who has been on the fourth line recently, has just one goal and nine assists, but has displayed his old verve recently. As a result, he has become the latest experiment as the No. 1 left wing, following tryouts from Alex Frolov, Brandon Dubinsky and Ruslan Fedotenko.

"We'll start that way," said coach John Tortorella, who believes Avery's speed and forechecking could be a suitable fit. "Sean's played well. Two of the last three games, he's been effective."

His impact has been with energy and aggressiveness, drawing penalties and banging. Avery had four hits and a fight with Tyler Kennedy in the 3-1 loss to Pittsburgh, took on Jordin Tootoo in the gritty 2-1 victory in Nashville, and in Florida fired a low, hard shot that led to a rebound goal for Derek Stepan.

"Skating-wise, I've felt well the last week or so," he said. "I just want to make sure my feet are moving. The most important thing is to get in on the forecheck."

Playing with Gaborik, he said, is "an opportunity to have one of the most elite goal scorers on your line. Now there's pressure to make a play and get him the puck. It's kind of like a double-edged sword."

Avery claimed that he was unaware of the Islanders' recent struggles, and when told about their coaching change from Scott Gordon to Jack Capuano, he said, "Seriously?" and dismissed the rivalry. "It's more a focus on our game. We know what our identity is, it seemed to solidify in the last month. We know the level of play we have to bring."

The Rangers (14-11-1, 4-2-0 in the last six) "have to get by" the Islanders' intensity in the first seven or eight minutes and try to dictate play, Tortorella said. He didn't know Capuano's strategy, but "when Scotty was there, he would throw his bangers and crashers out there right away." That could be another reason for Avery's ascension, however temporary.

New York Sports