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Sean Avery has never scored more than 18 goals in a season, doesn't possess much size and has never been known for his defense. Despite that, his effect on the New York Rangers is immeasurable.

The slumping Rangers hope to have Avery in the lineup for the first time in nine games Tuesday night when the Pittsburgh Penguins visit Madison Square Garden.

The Rangers (16-13-3) have played below expectations this season, particularly when various injuries have forced Avery out of the lineup.

When Avery receives 10 minutes or more of ice time, New York is 9-3-1 this season. When he receives less or is a scratch, the Rangers are only 7-10-2.

Avery is close to returning after missing the past eight games following arthroscopic surgery on his left wrist on Nov. 29. He could be in the lineup Tuesday or Thursday when New York visits Minnesota.

With one win in six games (1-4-1), the Rangers are in need of a spark. Avery excels at agitating the opposition and is one of the team's few players that brings both offensive ability and a rugged style.

While getting Avery back would be a bonus, it is more important for the Rangers to have starting goaltender Henrik Lundqvist healthy after he missed Sunday's 5-1 loss to Phoenix with the flu.

Backup Steven Valiquette wasn't sharp, allowing four of five goals in the second period, as New York was outplayed by one of the league's worst teams.

The Rangers have allowed 20 of their 75 goals this season in the last four losses, sandwiched around a 1-0 overtime victory against New Jersey a week earlier.

It was the third straight home loss for New York, which is only 6-6-3 at Madison Square Garden.

"Any time you lose like this in front of your fans, you bet it's embarrassing," center Scott Gomez told the Rangers' official Web site. "We have a good team, though. We have a great bunch of guys, and we know what it takes."

Captain Jaromir Jagr has only one assist in his last six games. He has seven goals in 32 games this season after he had 14 at this point in 2006-07.

Pittsburgh (16-14-2) rebounded from consecutive losses by holding on for a 3-2 victory over the New York Islanders on Saturday.

Rookie Tyler Kennedy scored the winning goal and added two assists as the Penguins won for the fourth time in five road games.

Kennedy has six goals and four assists in his first 19 games playing mostly on the top line with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

Crosby also scored his first goal in eight games for Pittsburgh.

"It feels good," Crosby said. "You never take anything for granted. When you don't get one for a few games, you just keep working hard to create your chances."

Crosby has one goal and three assists in three games this season against the Rangers. He has four goals and four assists in nine career games at New York.

With Marc-Andre Fleury sidelined with a sprained ankle, Dany Sabourin figures to make his fifth straight start Tuesday and his first against the Rangers.

The Rangers are 2-1-0 this season against the Penguins, winning 4-2 at MSG on Nov. 8. New York is 6-1-1 in its last eight home games versus Pittsburgh.

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