Sean Avery Might Have Found His Edge...60 Games Too Late
When the post-mortem is conducted on this year's Rangers' season, there will be plenty of blame to go around.
The construction of the team wasn't ideal, with just one pure goal-scorer.
The defense was very young, and the two experienced defensemen weren't very good.
And the forwards were too small, with the team not getting any bigger until the season was pretty much gone.
The coaching was, at times, erratic.
But a fair question to ask at the end of the Rangers' season, whether it ends in regulation or early in the postseason, is if coach John Tortorella got everything he could have out of his team.
Someone will need to ask if Tortorella did everything he could to take a below-average team and make them relatively competitive some of the time.
And when that question is asked, people will look to Avery's performance against the Flyers Sunday.
Avery had a huge, two-goal game against Philadelphia with three shots on goal, the same number he took in his previous four games.
Avery was coming off of being a health scratch in the Rangers' previous game against the Atlanta Thrashers. Against the Flyers, he looked angry and focused and determined, characteristics that hadn't been seen since Avery's huge four-point game against the Stars, January 6.
Avery had played for Dallas, who waived him so he could be claimed by the Rangers, so desperate were the Stars to rid themselves of Avery.
Avery responded to the snub a season later with one of his strongest games of the year.
And so we see, Avery is quite capable of being an on-ice factor. While he doesn't have a great shot, much speed, and isn't that strong, Avery is good at being a pest and getting teams off of their game plan and focused on his antics. And Avery has had some success at using these distractions as an opportunity to score.
But for much of Avery's time playing under Tortorella, he hasn't played like the Avery of previous seasons.
Avery has been tentative. Much of this probably stems from Tortorella's scratching of Avery during last season's playoffs.
Avery had taken some bad penalties in the playoffs, and Tortorella was trying to hold Avery accountable, but the experiment backfired as Avery lost his edge after being held out of Game Five of the playoffs against Washington.
Avery never got that edge back this season, with some exceptions like the aforementioned Dallas and Philadelphia games.
Avery often played like he was scared of getting scratched again. But without that edge, Avery wasn't effective.
He didn't distract opponents. He didn't get inside people heads. He didn't force opposing coaches to deal with his antics.
And without all of that, Avery didn't do much for the Rangers. Avery's playoff scratch didn't teach him personal responsibility—it taught him to try not to bother anyone on the ice.
Could Tortorella have handled things differently?
Perhaps. Maybe he could have made Avery comfortable enough to play with some sandpaper. Maybe he could have helped Avery understand where the line was that he couldn't cross. And maybe Tortorella could have been more understanding that a player like Avery is going to draw some bad penalties at inopportune times.
But it seems like Tortorella didn't do any of this. It seems like he just ignored Avery's struggles, waiting until Game 68 of the season to try and get Avery going by scratching him once again.
The move worked, but wouldn't it have been better to have done it earlier in the season? Wouldn't it have been better to have gotten Avery going while the Rangers could still maintain playoff position, rather than having to fight for it?
Now that Avery might have found his edge, and that really remains to be seen, perhaps Tortorella can, in good conscience, say he did everything he could to make his team as competitive as possible. But he won't be able to say he did it as quickly as he could have.
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