Marian Gaborik, Erik Christensen and...your top-line left wing is… Islander pest Sean Avery.
Avery, who has been on the fourth line for a couple weeks, has just one goal and nine assists. But he is the latest candidate for the role following Alex Frolov, Brandon Dubinsky and Ruslan Fedotenko.
“We’ll start that way,” said coach John Tortorella, who believes Avery’s speed and ability to forecheck could be a suitable fit against the Islanders. “Sean’s played well,” he said. “Two of the last three games, he’s been effective. And I like Feds with Boyle and Prust.”
Said Avery: “I think, skating-wise, I’ve felt well the last week or so. I just want to make sure my feet are moving. The most important thing is to get in on the forecheck…It’s certainly an opportunity to have one of the most elite goal scorers on your line. Now there’s pressure to make the 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, he said “Seriously?” and dismissed the rivalry. “It’s more focus on our game. We know what our identity is, it seemed to solidifiy in the last month. We know the level of play we have to bring.”
Tortorella said his players “have to get by” the Islanders’ intensity of the first seven or eight minutes at home and try to dictate play. “We have to establish our game.” He didn’t know how new coach Jack Capuano would decide to start, but “When Scotty (Gordon) was there, he would throw his bangers and crashers out there right away.”
The Rangers will bus to the Coliseum tomorrow morning and skate around 11. “It’s an important game, especially following a loss,” Tortorella said. Given that, my guess is that Henrik Lundqvist will start, although Tortorella declined to disclose his choice of goaltenders. Martin Biron could get the nod in one of the back to backs, however.
The other lines were Brandon Dubinsky-Derek Stepan-Ryan Callahan and Alex Frolov/Todd White-Artem Anisimov-Derek Boogaard. Tortorella said Boogaard, who has missed three games with a strained shoulder, is “able to play, as of today.” My guess for the scratch? White.
Mark Messier was on ice at the end of practice working on faceoffs again with the centers. “We can’t continue to struggle,” said Tortorella. “We may have to go for ties. We haven’t had the puck enough…He’s going to help.” At one point, he was demonstrating the backhand sweep to Christensen and Anisimov.
Practice observations: Brandon Dubinsky and rookie Michael Sauer had words and were jabbing and shouldering one another after one drill had ended. Nice to see an edge there….Seemed that shooters were still missing the net a lot five on five…Holiday spirit? At one point, some players were wearing white jerseys, red pants and green socks.
To Sauer, the Coliseum, with the championship banners, is quite a sight. “Of course, for me, every building is great because it’s an NHL building,” said Sauer, who has played a total of 23 NHL games. Yesterday, Sauer, who played in the 6-4 loss on Oct. 11, learned more of the history of the rivalry, which began in 1974-75, from former Rangers captain Dave Maloney, who explained how the Islanders played Al Arbour’s system, and had the stars up front in Bryan Trottier and Mike Bossy and on defense in Denis Potvin. Great listening in.
Michael Del Zotto said he welcomes the noise from the Rangers fans in the building: “It seems like there’s a little more at stake. It’s one of those games that’s a little easier to get up for….Feels like every game has been physical this season, though.”
Tortorella, who did not appear on a regular television or radio show in Tampa, said he enjoys MSG’s “Behind the Bench”, which debuted Friday. “I like it, because it’s my opinions and I don’t have to answer questions from you guys,” he joked. I responded by telling him that the writers had slipped co-star Mike Keenan some questions for him. Too late. The second show in the series was taped yesterday. A live gig (no chance) certainly would show the coach’s spontaneous side but when I asked him why it wasn’t, he answered: “JR (vice-president of public relations and player recruitment John Rosasco) won’t let me.”