UNIONDALE, N.Y. – The calmer Sean Avery has something in common with the more rambunctious version; they both agitate opponents and help the New York Rangers win.
The new and improved version of hockey’s most-hated player came back to the NHL on Thursday night with a toned-down attitude and an understanding that he has to stay in control. At the end of a fast-paced, high-energy contest, Avery and the Rangers came away with a 4-2 victory over the New York Islanders.
“That felt good to get that out of the way,” said Avery, in his second stint with the Rangers. “If there was any nerves coming in, I certainly got rid of them quick. It felt good to be playing for this team again and getting the win. That’s what I came here to do, try to win some games.”
Avery spent 1 1/2 seasons with the Rangers, who went 50-23-13 with him and 9-13-3 when he was out. He left last summer for a lucrative deal with the Dallas Stars, but fell out of favour there after making crude comments about players dating his former girlfriends.
He endured a six-game NHL suspension in December and then wasn’t welcomed back to the Stars. After a three-month banishment and a stint in the minor leagues, Avery was claimed by the Rangers – the team with which he has enjoyed his greatest success.
“Certainly there’s a comfort level wearing that jersey,” he said.
While he might have toned down his act, it hasn’t completely left his game. He yapped from the bench, and later picked himself up off the ice after being face-planted into the glass.
All in a night’s work.
He had his first run-in during the first period after being hit by Blake Comeau in front of the benches, but didn’t push back in the skirmish. He delivered hits to defencemen Bruno Gervais and Radek Martinek from behind and absorbed his biggest blow when Trent Hunter smashed him face-first into the glass by the penalty box.
Avery, playing in his first NHL game since Nov. 30, was slow getting to his feet and skated slowly to the scrum in the Rangers zone, but didn’t get involved. Hunter was called for boarding and Avery kept his cool, in what is likely his last chance to prove he can behave.
“He didn’t get carried away,” said Rangers coach John Tortorella, 2-1-1 since replacing the fired Tom Renney. “He is going to talk. That is part of his personality and part of what happens in the game. I don’t want him to lose that.
“We allowed him to play. He did a good job in just maintaining his discipline. That’s a step in the right direction. He can’t get involved in what people try to get him to do.”
Nikolai Zherdev had a goal and assist and Chris Drury and Scott Gomez scored for the second straight game for the Rangers, who are in a three-win tie for sixth place in the Eastern Conference. They earned consecutive wins for the first time since Jan. 20 and 27 and snapped an 0-7-2 road skid.
“It was an ugly win and we have some things to work on, but good teams win games when they’re not playing that well,” Tortorella said.
Markus Naslund made it 4-2 with a power-play goal with 6:36 left in his 1,100th NHL game. Henrik Lundqvist made 28 saves for New York, which scored 10 goals in two games, took the season series from the Islanders 5-1.
Comeau and defenceman Jack Hillen, with his first NHL goal, answered for the Islanders. They had won two straight, while captain Bill Guerin was in trade limbo, but dropped the first game after he was finally dealt to Pittsburgh on Wednesday.
Forward Nik Antropov and defenceman Derek Morris – acquired before Wednesday’s trade deadline also made their debuts. Antropov had an assist.
Zherdev, who earned a roughing penalty along with the Islanders’ Trent Hunter, did more damage earlier with his 18th goal. Zherdev picked off Tim Jackman’s clearing attempt and snapped a wrist shot from the right-circle dot that beat Yann Danis inside the right post at 8:33.
Comeau got the Islanders even 5:37 into the second period with his fifth goal of the season and first in 19 games.
Drury, who broke a career-worst drought of 17 straight goal-less games on Saturday, netted his second in two contests to put the Rangers back on top with a power-play goal at 9:41.
Notes: Avery was whistled for cross-checking Jeff Tambellini in the third period. … Comeau’s previous goal was scored on Jan. 17 against New Jersey.