Sean Avery will make his "long-awaited" return to Madison Square Garden on Thursday night when the New York Rangers take on the Anaheim Ducks, but he'll be doing it from the press box (7:00 p.m. EST, MSG).
The feisty winger, who cleared re-call waivers Tuesday at noon and rejoined the team for practice Wednesday, will be a healthy scratch. Coach John Tortorella doesn't want to mess with the roster that earned the Rangers' most complete win, a 5-2 beating of the San Jose Sharks, and Avery had not skated the past few days while on re-entry waivers.
Thus, the Garden faithful will have to wait a few more days; Saturday against the Montreal Canadiens, possibly? For Thursday, Tortorella will stick with the same lines, and hope the game against the Sharks was a harbinger of consistent play to come. The Rangers will need a similar level of effort against another dangerous team from the Western Conference, albeit one playing its sixth game of a seven-game road trip, but one that defeated them in Europe, 2-1 in a shootout.
Ater beginning the year with a 4-1 record, the Ducks have mustered only one win in seven games, earning four points in that span. Tuesday against the Washington Capitals, the Ducks -- mostly goaltender Jonas Hiller, but some help from a shoddy defense -- coughed up a 3-0 lead in the second period ... which later became a 4-2 lead halfway through the third, and eventually a 5-4 overtime loss.
Anaheim's problem right now is that Hiller has been very shaky (2.80 goals-against average, .899 save percentage), meaning the team needs to outscore opponents every night, instead of winning the tight, low-scoring affairs. They've got a negative-7 goal differential as a result, compared to an even one for New York. Another current weakness is that 18 of their 26 goals have come from three players on the elite top line (Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and Bobby Ryan), and one player on the second, Teemu Selanne, who has 14 points on the year. The dynamic top line, however, hasn't fully clicked yet. The Rangers' defense has to minimize their space, keep it simple on defense and ultimately make the other lines beat them.
What else do the Rangers need to do? It's easy: play the same way they did against San Jose -- create offense by skating and being strong on the forecheck, build on the power-play effectiveness and stay out of the penalty box. New York's strength, not shown fully yet this year, is that they have depth up and down the lineup and scoring ability on all four lines. That's what they need to use to their advantage, and that's displayed by outworking opponents and getting the puck deep.