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Avery quickly has become a Garden favorite again

by Adam Kimelman
The chants were impossible to miss, mostly because they rained down from the sellout crowd nearly every time he stepped on the ice.

Chants of "Ave-ry! Ave-ry!" grew louder and louder throughout Sunday's clash between the Rangers and the Flyers. Skating at left wing on the Blueshirts' top line, Avery showcased every one of his skills in the 4-1 victory against Philadelphia. He crashed the net to score a pair of power-play goals, and yapped his way into drawing a pair of penalties.

In six games with the Rangers, he has 4 goals, 5 points and 10 penalty minutes and is averaging more than 15 minutes of ice time per game.

"I feel good as far as just being happy that I'm out playing, and trying to play hard and help the team win," said Avery. "I've gotten some good bounces and I've gotten some good passes. It's tough to explain. Obviously, the team playing better is something that helps a lot."

Success has seemed to follow Avery in New York. In 92 games with the Rangers spread across three seasons, the club is 54-22-16 with him in the lineup, and 9-13-3 without him. The Rangers are 4-2-0 so far in Avery's second run on Broadway.

While there may have been trepidation about taking Avery and his considerable personal baggage back, so far, the reviews have been nothing short of glowing.

"The energy he brings when he's playing his style of going up and down, there's probably no one in the League faster," linemate Scott Gomez told reporters. "When Sean is skating, he opens it up for me. We want to create on every shift; that's been our goal."

Avery's goal has been to play the same energetic, annoying style that earned him part of his reputation in the first place. He took a poke at Flyers All-Star center Jeff Carter off the opening faceoff and later drew a hooking penalty on him. He bumped and battled down low, working his way free to tip a Derek Morris shot under the crossbar for the game's first goal. He later took a charging penalty from Andrew Alberts that was part of the reason the Flyers were shorthanded for the first seven minutes of the third period.

"He gets the puck, five guys on their team want to kill him," said Gomez.

From his post-game comments, it almost sounded like Flyers coach John Stevens wanted to make it six.

"We got emotional and used it in the wrong way there," Stevens said. "I think (Avery's) probation period is over and now he's back up to his old antics and we got sucked in, to be quite honest with you. We started worrying about him instead of playing the game. He draws your physical attention and allows their skilled people to play, and then we play the whole game shorthanded."

Avery said he's dealt with his own emotions about returning to New York after his aborted stint in Dallas, and how he's put any nervousness behind him.

"I think it has to do with my mindset and where my head is more than anything," Avery said. "We talked about, after the first couple of games, how I was just so nervous and kind of playing a little too hard. So I was just trying to slow it down and think of the plays and where they are going to end up and try and anticipate it."

Rangers coach John Tortorella, who in his previous role as hockey commentator for TSN was one of the more vocal critics of Avery in the wake of his suspension for derogatory comments made about the personal lives of other players in December, has liked what he's seen so far.

"I think he has been outstanding in trying to keep that concentration, but it has to be all of the time," Tortorella said. "We don't want any cracks. We want to keep him concentrated on what he has to do."

Avery agrees, and for now, he's relishing his second chance in New York, and basking in the love of Rangers fans.

"Every time I get to walk into the Garden, it was something that was almost gone for me, so I'm grateful for that," he said.

More than Marty in Montreal --
Lost amid the commotion surrounding Martin Brodeur's assault on the goaltending record book was Patrik Elias tying John MacLean with 701 points for the all-time scoring mark in club history.

Elias' goal 5:27 into Saturday's game was his 700th point, and his assist on Brian Rolston's game-winning goal later in the first -- Rolston's 300th NHL goal -- tied him with MacLean, a Devils assistant coach.

"It's great. I kind of downplayed it throughout the whole week or two weeks," Elias told The (Bergen) Record.

If Elias downplayed it, his teammates weren't.

"It's definitely too bad everything was toward me because of that game in Montreal," Brodeur said after Monday's practice. "But definitely he deserves everything that he is getting."

Added coach Brent Sutter, "Patty's accomplishment is pretty phenomenal in itself. … For Patty to be here where he is now says something about the accomplishments Patty has had to date."

"It's great," MacLean told The (Bergen) Record. "I congratulated him. I mentioned to him the other day that it's a good thing you're doing this, but unfortunately, you're doing it when somebody is setting an all-time record. But it's good for him. I'm happy for him."

Elias' biggest shot Saturday, though, was on Brodeur. At the final horn, Elias flipped the puck to Brodeur, who had to stretch to snare it with his glove.

"It almost got over him, but he got it," Elias said.

Still getting better -- There's no questioning Sidney Crosby's standing among the elite players in the game. But that doesn't mean he still isn't trying to get better.

One of the knocks on Crosby since he entered the League was his struggles in the faceoff circle. As a rookie he won only 45.5 percent of his draws, but he's raised the number every season -- he won 49.8 percent in his second season, 51.4 percent last season, and he's at 51.3 percent this season. And as the Pens push for a playoff spot, he's won more than 60 percent of his draws in six of his last 11 games, and more than 50 percent in nine of the last 11.

Crosby claims he isn't doing anything different, telling the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "You just go through spans where you're a little sharper on them."

Some of his recent sharpness could coincide with the arrival of Tom Fitzgerald as an assistant coach. Fitzgerald, also the team's director of player personnel, moved behind the bench when Dan Bylsma was named coach. Fitzgerald worked occasionally on faceoffs with the players before his new position; since he's been added to the coaching staff, it's been a frequent topic in practice.

Fitzgerald said Crosby is taking a wider stance on faceoffs, which allows him to use his superior lower-body strength.

"He has strong wrists, but he's using his lower body more instead of just his wrists," Fitzgerald told the newspaper.

"We've said we want to be a puck-possession team and winning faceoffs is part of being a puck-possession team."
-- Tom Fitzgerald on Sidney Crosby

With all the offensive firepower the Pens have, any extra time with the puck is vital.

"We've said we want to be a puck-possession team," said Fitzgerald, "and winning faceoffs is part of being a puck-possession team."

Crosby also knows how important controlling the puck is, so he's going to keep working on raising his faceoff success rate even more.

"I'd like to be above 50 (percent) consistently," said Crosby, who has been at or above that mark in 14 of 19 games since the All-Star break. "If I can get to 53, 54, that would be something I'm pretty happy with."

An early favorite -- If ice time is the truest indicator of a coach's faith and trust in a player, then it's pretty obvious just what Rangers coach John Tortorella thinks of defenseman Marc Staal.

In Tortorella's first nine games, Staal is playing an average of 21:22 per game; he's been over 20 minutes in seven of the nine, and more than 22 minutes in four of them.

But in case that wasn't enough, Tortorella told reporters how much he likes Staal.

"I just see so much in him -- size, reach, how he was brought up," said Tortorella. "I know the Staal family. There's more there and I think, sometimes, when you're a young player, there's a fine line between the coach/young player relationship, how much can he handle so you don't hurt him in his development, but how long do you wait until you give him more? I think he's ready to assume more responsibility in the offensive part of the game. I just think there's more. If I feel there's too much at a certain time, we'll back off. I'm defining the process of developing a young player into the pro you want them to be. We'll push him and Danny (Girardi) along because we think they're ready for more."

News and Notes -- Devils left wing Zach Parise set a team record by scoring his 40th goal in the club's 67th game, Thursday's 5-2 win against Phoenix. John MacLean had the previous record, scoring his 40th in the Devils' 68th game in 1990-91. … Devils center Travis Zajac was the victim of an Internet hoax. Someone edited the Wikipedia page of Hall of Fame goaltender Terry Sawchuk to list him as a cousin of Zajac. Zajac, who was born 15 years after Sawchuk's death, told The (Bergen) Record that to his knowledge, he is not related in any way to Sawchuk. … The latest Islander to suffer an injury didn't get hurt in a game. Forward Kurtis McLean, an emergency call-up up from Bridgeport of the American Hockey League, suffered a leg injury during a pre-game soccer game. … Flyers forward Arron Asham's two-goal game Saturday against the Rangers was his first multi-goal game since Feb. 16, 2008, when he played with the Devils. … Saturday's win was the 100th for Flyers coach John Stevens. … Former Ranger Ron Duguay has signed to play two games in the first-year Eastern Professional Hockey League. At 51, Duguay will become the second-oldest player to take a shift in a professional hockey game; in 1997, 69-year-old Gordie Howe skated for the Detroit Vipers of the International Hockey League. Duguay will play for the Brooklyn Aces on March 21 at the Aviator Sports and Recreation Center in Brooklyn, and the following day he'll play for the Jersey Rockhoppers in West Orange, N.J. As part of the deal, the EPHL will promote The Garden of Dreams, the charitable organization run by Madison Square Garden. Duguay played 860 NHL games with the Rangers, Red Wings, Penguins and Kings from 1977-89. He last played professionally with Jacksonville Barracudas of the Atlantic Coast Hockey League in the 2002-03 season.  … Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist became the first goaltender in League history to win 30 games in each of his first four seasons when he beat the Predators on Thursday. "It is a great feeling to be part of history," Lundqvist said. "The first four years have been great. When I look back on my career I will definitely think about this accomplishment. Part of this is because of my teammates, as well." … Alf Pike, a member of the Rangers' 1940 Stanley Cup team and later coach for the team, died March 1 in Calgary. He was 91. That leaves Clint Smith, 95, as the only living member of the last Rangers team to win the Stanley Cup prior to the 1995 team. … The Rangers' game Sunday against the Flyers was the 150th straight sellout at Madison Square Garden, while the Penguins' game Sunday against the Bruins was the 100th straight sellout at Mellon Arena. … One of the more remarkable stats this season -- defenseman Mark Streit is a plus-7 on a team that has allowed 47 more goals than it has scored. … The Penguins honored senior advisor/hockey operations Eddie Johnston for his 25 years with the club, including time as coach and GM. Sidney Crosby presented Johnston's wife, Diane, with two dozen roses, and co-owner Mario Lemieux presented Johnston with a crystal penguin. Johnston was the GM who drafted Lemieux with the first pick of the 1984 Entry Draft.

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