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Kotalik takes a seat for Rangers

ST. LOUIS - Ales Kotalik, who signed a three-year, $9-million contract last summer, was benched last night and the nine-year veteran called his tenure in New York "probably the most frustrating part of my career. I didn't expect this when I came - to be the worst guy here - I mean, not good enough to be in the lineup."

The right wing (8-14-22 and minus-16) also was a healthy scratch Dec. 17 and Dec. 19, had played 12 straight since, and said he had received no explanation for the healthy scratch.

"When Vinny Prospal was hurt, I scored a couple goals [in back-to-back games] and we talked about some things with the coaching staff and I started to feel better about myself and that my game was coming along," he said. "When Vinny comes back, I'm pushed to the fourth line."

Coach John Tortorella has been displeased with Kotalik's five-on-five play, and trimmed some minutes in the previous two games, but he continued to give him time on the point on the first power-play unit. Kotalik bristled about being pegged as solely a specialty player (he likened his situation to being on an NFL punt-return team) and wondered whether he should have been given more time with former Sabres teammate Chris Drury, an option discussed when he was acquired.

He was a key part of the team's hot October start with the man-advantage (12-for-44 and at least one PP goal in eight consecutive games). But he did go 21 games without a goal.

Brashear sidelined

Donald Brashear, who fought Ottawa's Matt Carkner twice Thursday, skated but was scratched with hamstring tightness. Brashear, 38, who had played in six straight games, said the injury had nothing to do with the bouts: "It's something I had in the past." . . . Aaron Voros and Enver Lisin replaced Kotalik and Brashear in the lineup.

New York Sports