Does any team in the league have three more diverse drivers than the New York Rangers?
No single player can – or at least should – be expected to carry a team all by his lonesome for an entire NHL year. But the Blueshirts, more than any team in the league, live and die on the basis of individual performances.
Start with Marian Gaborik, anointed MVP at the half by my colleague Edward Fraser because he’s scored almost one-quarter of the Rangers’ goals this year, 28 of 116.
A goal-scorer as team savoir is certainly not a new storyline.
Neither is the notion of a goalie giving an utterly average club a chance to win each time out, as Henrik Lundqvist has been doing for New York since he first stepped onto NHL ice in 2005-06.
This year has been no exception. King Henrik has 19 of the Rangers’ 21 wins, a .920 save percentage and a 2.40 goals-against average playing behind a group of defensemen that would likely make life trying enough on him even it they weren’t encouraged to take risks by up-tempo coach John Tortorella.
Then there’s the wild card behind the wheel, Sean Avery. Can Avery’s impact consistently match that of Gaborik and Lundqvist? Of course not. Still, there’s no denying he can be and has been a difference-maker for the Rangers.
He reminded us of that Wednesday night, when, apparently spurred on by playing his former teammates on the Dallas Stars, Avery was in the mix at every turn, racking up four points in addition to both sitting in the penalty box and inciting opponents to do the same in a 5-2 Rangers win.
My guess is most around the NHL think it’s a wonderful thing that we’ve gone half a season without really hearing too much from the league’s most notorious noise-maker, but it sure isn’t good news for the Rangers.
Even with his recent four-point night, Avery’s season totals are a paltry five goals and 18 points through 38 games. Offensive stats have never been the metric to determine Avery’s effectiveness, but those are still pretty sad numbers.
Still, the real point of encouragement for the Blueshirts has to be how angry Avery was – or at least looked – against his old squad. He’s been conspicuously subdued for most of the season, making some wonder if his act had gone off-Broadway.
Tortorella swears he’s encouraged Avery to be at his agitating best, adding he’d let the player know when lines get crossed.
Wednesday night proved Avery can still have an incredibly productive impact on the Rangers when he plays in that special middle ground, just past edginess and a little bit shy of antics.
If he can stay in that space, it will do wonders for New York’s playoff chances – and maybe even give Gaborik and Lundqvist the opportunity to be passengers for a night or two.
Ryan Dixon is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey’s Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Thursdays and his column, Top Shelf, appears Wednesdays.
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