Many Ranger fans love Sean Avery. Coach John Tortorella does not. Injuries have left him no choice and Saturday night the player that has antagonized rivals and had a rule named after him makes his regular-season debut.
Most AHL players do not have banners demanding their recall at the big league affiliate’s home opener.
Most healthy scratches do not have their names chanted during games but to Ranger fans, Sean Avery is not like most players.
He is a fan favorite. The disdain was visible after Avery failed to make the Rangers out of training camp this year and instead played his first two games with the Connecticut Whale of the AHL. That prompted loud and visible complaints from some fans at the team’s first few home games, including a sign in the home opener against Toronto that read: "AVERY 16 SEND TORTS TO THE WHALE”.
The 31-year-old was recalled and, after passing through re-entry waivers, rejoined the Rangers on Wednesday. Avery watched from the press box during a 2-1 shootout win over the Ducks Thursday, a game in which left wing Wojtek Wolski strained his groin. Since Michael Rupp is out with an injured knee, that opens a spot for Avery Saturday night against the Canadiens.
When he returns to action Avery will likely have a role similar to last season, when he registered three goals and 24 assists, mainly as a fourth-line forward.
After wearing out his welcome in Los Angeles in 2007, Avery became a fan favorite over at Madison Square Garden in a variety of ways: He antagonized rivals by getting then-Islander defenseman James Wisniewski suspended for making obscene gestures and by calling Martin Brodeur “fatso.” His goalie-distraction techniques landed in the rulebook – the “Avery Rule."
He also stepped up in big games as a key contributor to Easten Conference quarterfinal victories against Atlanta in 2007 and New Jersey in 2008. And he became a New Yorker by interning with Vogue magazine during the 2008 offseason and owning restaurants in the city.
Avery has also told the media all the right things about his time with the team and playing in the partially renovated Madison Square Garden.
“I love every game I’ve ever played for this team,” Avery told reporters after his first practice back with the Rangers. “I’m definitely excited about playing in the new building.”
But New York has not been all roses for Avery, especially since returning from Dallas in 2009 and playing under coach John Tortorella. After all, he didn’t even make the NHL club to start the year and the coach told reporters that he thought the team had “better players than Sean Avery, plain and simple,” in early October.
It also is unlikely Avery will do much to help the Rangers’ struggling offense, which is in the bottom third of the NHL in both power-play percentage and goals per game. His strengths as a player mainly come from his skating speed, play along the end boards and ability to forecheck.
But if general managers around the NHL believed he could help their teams as much as those Rangers fans believe, Avery likely would have been claimed by another club on re-entry waivers this week.
“I know there are people, as far as fans and media, who have their favorite players and players they want to grind on,” he said. “It doesn’t matter either way to me, whether you’re grinding on them or love them, it’s not going to change my decision making. It cannot happen that way. Cannot run a business that way. So I do understand that. But it certainly doesn’t change my thinking of what I do with the hockey club."
Atlantic Division Notes
Penguins C Evgeni Malkin has been impressive after returning from his five-game injury absence. He has six points in four games since his knee soreness died down. … The Islanders are in the midst of a brutal skid. They haven’t won since John Tavares’ four-point night in a 4-2 win over the Rangers on Oct. 15. All of the Islanders’ wins came during a three-game streak in which they scored 11 goals. Since then they have scored seven goals during a six-game losing streak (0-4-2). … D Mark Streit’s grandmother celebrated her 97th birthday at the team’s loss to Winnipeg on Thursday. Arthur Staple of Newsday reported it was her first-ever trip to the United States. Streit is a native of Switzerland. … Since Devils center Jacob Josefson was lost to a broken clavicle, LW Zach Parise stepped into the pivot position, often flanked by Ilya Kovalchuk. Parise has just two goals and no assists and is minus-4 in six games since Josefson went down. That experiment lasted three games and in New Jersey’s last two games, a 5-3 loss to Toronto and a 4-3 shootout win in Philadelphia, Adam Henrique was the top center. … Jaromir Jagr has found the fountain of youth in North America, and it’s on Broad Street. Jagr, 39, has five goals and eight assists in 13 games. He has mainly skated on a line with Scott Hartnell and Claude Giroux. … The Rangers agreed to a one-year contract with Swedish D Anton Stralman. Stralman was in training camp with the Devils this fall.