New York Hockey: Donnie Pucks
When fans found out that he was a scratch for Game 1, they thought it was the worst idea in the world.
Well, tonight he's back in and Rangers fans are thrilled.
I tweeted it as soon as it was official and Rangers nation went nuts.
@Peedjeans: Good move, Torts adding some jam.
@DJSturch85: Intensity upgrade
@shamrockmaui: EXCELLENT CHOICE TORTS
@thebrymann: Thank God. He could spark the team
and believe me there were more.
It's incredible what he does to this fan base. He might be the popular player on the team.
It's not a surprising move. After Mats Zuccarello took that first period penalty in Game 1, you had the feeling that Avery would be back.
But let's not forget why Sean was out in game 1. He sometimes coughs up the puck and will take the bad penalty.
Avery will either be just what the doctor ordered for this team looking for that energy to get to the net and finish. Or, he will put the Rangers in a tough spot to even this series.
There is one thing that has gotten lost in the conversation about Avery -- love him or hate him. He has been a good solider for this team; first line, fourth line, in or out. He has not complained and has done right for the team.
No matter what happens tonight number 16, will be the man to watch all night long.
And I have a feeling that win or lose, he'll be the talk of Rangers nation all weekend.
Considering how well the Devils played with Lemaire, it would have been great to see him come back for one more run. But now they move on and have to ask themselves the question:
Do they go young to pick up were they left off with John MacLean? Or find a vet that can continue what Lemaire started?
I've got one of each to review:
New: Kirk Muller -- The former Devils has done a great job as an assisstant in Montreal. He might be what the Devils wanted in MacLean, but better. He's ready and will likley land a team this summer.
Vet: Ken Hitchcock -- He won a Cup with the Stars. He also did solid jobs in Philly and Columbus. He fits the Devils defensive style and has all the required respect for Lou Lamoriello. The knock on Hitch has been that he was too hard on younger players. But I believe the 59-year-old has mellowed a bit and it might not be an issue.
The Devils can't go wrong with either. Both have Cups on their resumes, Hitch as a coach and Muller as a player. The Devils always seem to respond to coaches with established names. Thus the Cups with Lemaire, Larry Robinson and Pat Burns.
One door closes and another opens. Maybe this time the Devils will hire a coach that will stick.
Last year the New York Rangers let it slip through their fingers -- a shootout loss to the rival Philadelphia Flyers and a summer to sit and stew.
This year was different.
Not that they didn't sweat it out. As a matter of fact, they took the long road and put their fans through hell.
After a 3-0 loss to the Thrashers on Thursday, it looked like it was all happening again. Then fans almost needed a doctor after falling behind 2-1 after one against the Devils on Saturday afternoon.
But in the end, thanks to a stellar final two periods versus Jersey and a Lightning win in Carolina, the Rangers are in the playoffs as a scary team to play.
Forgotten now are the losses to the Islanders, Senators and Thrashers. Brushed aside are the struggles at home, the ups and downs of the power play, the lack of consistent offense and the games lost to injury.
It may not have come down to the last day if Marian Gaborik and Vinny Prospal hadn't missed a collective 73 games.
What doesn't kill you makes you stronger. This team took every punch all season. It was pushed by its coach every day and is better for it.
Some may say that the Rangers backed in thanks to the Hurricanes' loss to the Lightning. But when you watched this team all year, you saw how hard the Rangers worked. They didn't back in. They kicked the door down.
The Blueshirts went against their recent history. Instead of signing vets and trading prospects for hired guns, they went young. They gave major minutes to Derek Stepan, Michael Sauer, Ryan McDonaugh and Mats Zuccarello. It paid off. In other years, it would have failed.
No matter what happens in the playoffs, what all those kids went through and will go through will prepare them for the future. The future has not looked this bright in a long time.
Also don't forget about the return of Chris Drury on Saturday. How big was that goal to tie the game? He's got a knack for big goals and returns just in time for the playoffs.
We have a few days to break down how the Rangers match up with the Caps. For now, Rangers fans -- enjoy. Last year is now a distant memory.
But not the end of the world.
Why? Because the Rangers are not about one player.
Chris Drury, Vinny Prospal, Brandon Dubinsky, Marc Staal, Marty Biron, Marion Gaborik and Eric Christensenall have missed time this season and yet the Blueshirts are still right there. About to make the playoffs.
This team has heart. A no quit attitude that never turns off. That is what will get them through.
Now, Callahan will be missed. He plays 20 minutes a game, has 23 goals and 25 assists. He can play on multiple lines and is a leader. A trait the rest of the team has picked up on.
However the Rangers are a team and have enough experience to try and make it work. Plus, a world-class goalie in Henrik Lundqvist evens any game out.
How far will the team will go? Only time will tell.
But I'm not ready to say the loss of Callahan will be the kiss of death.
Before the game, the Rangers announced their leading goal scorer Brandon Dubinsky is out for the next 3 to 4 weeks with a stress fracture in his left leg. Major blow for a team already missing Alex Frolov, Ryan Callahan and Erik Christiansen.
Then in a blow out game, Ruslan Fedotenko injuried his shoulder and is out for 2 to 4 weeks.
How much more can they take?
The Rangers are a hard working team that kills themselves for every inch of ice. That comes at an expense. If this team has a shot at making something happen this year. A dynamic scorer needs to step it up.
Enter Marion Gaborik. He used last night as a chance to show that he will be that man -- 4 goals for his best game of the season.
But one good game followed by 5 scoreless ones will not work. Gaborik needs to be more consistent. He has 15 goals and 10 have come in 4 games. That will not do.
Also others will have to chip in. Sean Avery and Artem Anisimov, now playing on the first line with Gaborik, will have to help.
The good news is that they have Henrik Lundqvist. Last night was his 7th shutout of the season. That ties him with the Bruins' Tim Thomas for the most in the league. That will get them through most nights but not all of them. The likes of Washington, Pittsburgh and Detroit are on the schedule the next few weeks.
This will be an interesting month for the Rangers. How they handle this may set the stage for the rest of the season.
Let's break down why Martin Brodeur is 5-18-1 with a 3.15 GAA and an .882 save percentage.
Since the '95-96 season Brodeur has averaged 70 games a season. A workload that is matched by no other modern day netminder. Then add all the playoff games and international play it's easy to assume that it's wearing him down.
Marty will be 39 in May, and history tells us that at this age most goalies begin to scale back the number of games or become just a backup. The Devils were trying to defy time by having him continue the workload.
The usually unbreakable Brodeur, who rarely misses time do to injury, has suffered two elbow injuries in the last three years. I'm not convinced that the elbow doesn't still bother him.
Let's also not forget that the Devils team in front of him is the worst team in the league and by far the worst team Marty has ever played for. The problem with this theory is Marty is facing less shots per game this season (23) then in his career (25).
It all amounts to this: It's hard to say after just 27 games that Martin Brodeur is done. But he's no longer an elite goalie, that's for sure. The Devils search for a successor is long overdue. That should have been done years ago.
Done as a goalie? No, not yet. Done as a star? Sadly, that seems to be the case.
Dwayne Roloson is gone. Rick DiPietro has to now be the goalie to whom the new York Islanders gave a 15-year contract. That requires DiPietro to play most nights and to be solid. This is his chance to take off running and finally be the clear No. 1.
Get Bailey going.
Josh Bailey is back from the minors and scoring. Why he was sent down is beyond me. Bailey needs to continue to grow and be the player they drafted.
Spend some money.
Charles Wang has to decide what to do. When he first took over, Wang spent money and was aggressive. He put cash into the team. Now it seems like he's just waiting for the end to come. Putting a team on the ice at just a tad over the floor of the salary cap is not right.
Yes, he's losing money. But is running it like this going to turn it around? If just standing in place is the only thing left for Wang to do, then he should just sell the team. You can blame Garth Snow. But to me, this is all the owner's fault.
This is just another lost season for the Islanders.
It's just time to watch the kids grow and hope that someone can take this team in the right direction.
Jamie Langenbrunner, Patrick Elias and Jason Arnott are players that can be productive on winning teams. No sense keeping them when it appears that this year and next could be rebuilding years for the New Jersey Devils. It is true that these players have no trade clauses in their contracts but it doesn't hurt to ask. It's tough to let great players of the past go. But if you hold on to them, and don't acquire any prospects, then you will never turn things around.
Work with the defense on offense.
Larry Robinson has to work harder to get the D-men to be stronger on offense. It may be easier said then done but, something has to give. The Devils defense has produced just 8 goals this season and 21 assists. That's just 29 points! Come on Larry. Show them how to do it.
Get to work on Parise.
Devils fans can live with a bad year. It's the first really terrible year since '88-89. There is one thing that fans can't stand to think about -- losing Zach Parise. He might be one of the best forwards in team history. To lose him would set this franchise back to the dark ages. Lou Lamoriello needs to make sure a plan is place to get him signed. If not, the Ilya Kovalchuk deal will be even worse.
Figure it out with Marty.
Martin Brodeur was the best goalie in the league. Now he's a shell of himself. If this is what he is, then he can't play every night. Just because he was great doesn't mean he should play every night.
Get Ilya Kovalchuk scoring.
Hey Kovalchuk, there's the net. Score!
The New York Rangers have scored 119 goals this season. Not bad. But if they want to contend with the Pens and the Flyers they need to rely on their offense more. That means Marion Gaborik has to be a star and stay healthy. If that can happen they should be ok.
Get Marty Biron playing well.
If Biron plays well, then John Tortorella will have no problem getting him some playing time. Down the stretch and in the postseason Henrik Lundqvist will be playing every game. He'll need his rest. The only way to get it is to rely on Biron.
Help Michael Del Zotto find his game.
Del Zotto was a super rookie. His sophomore year has been a struggle. He's been a healthy scratch way too much. They need him to get back to form.
The Rangers will be in great shape with Ryan Callahan and Erik Christensen back in the lineup. Callahan is the heart and soul. Christensen adds depth and is awesome in the shootout. They need them back.
I believe this a playoff team. With a little help, maybe even more than that.
The Devils might be the worst team in the league. They are tied with the Islanders for the worst in the league with 20 points. N.J. is last in goals scored with 59 and have a minus-44 goal differential.
You can't just sit and watch, what is perhaps, the worst year in Devils history without saying goodbye to the coach. Even if it's just 33 games into his first season.
Jacques Lemaire will likely take over for the rest of the season. This is the cheaper move. Lemaire is still being paid so it is unlikely chairman/managing partner Jeff Vanderbeek is going to pay for three coaches.
Lemaire will get this team playing better and with more purpose. This season is over, but they should at least play more like a team that belongs in this league and not what Devils fans have been forced to watch all year long.
This summer will be huge for N.J.
Will Lamoriello stay as the GM? There are rumblings that he may call it quits.
Adam Oates came to the Devs for a reason, will he be the next coach?
Do they go after Michel Therrien, Ken Hitchcock or Guy Carbonneau? All would be great choices.
I for one would love to see Hitchcock. He has won a cup and he coaches the defensive style that the Devils love to run. He has also handled stars in his career like, Rick Nash, Mike Modano and Jeremy Roenick. He has just the resume to handle the underachieving Ilya Kovalchuk.
The Devils are moving on. It's all about next season now.
Last night's win over the Penguins marked the Blueshirts' second win in three meetings against the Pens -- one of the best teams in the league. Both wins were in Pittsburgh. That tells you the Rangers can play with the best in the league.
Chris Drury returned to the lineup after playing in only one game this season. He played nearly 15 minutes and was a plus-1. He also won 80 percent of his faceoffs. This is just what the Rangers need. A player that can win draws and kill penalties.
In what is a huge measuring-stick week for the Rangers, they have won their first two against the Caps and Pens. There are two more big games this week with the Coyotes tonight and the Flyers on Saturday.
Ryan Callahan is lost for the next 6 weeks with a broken hand.
This could be the Rangers' worst loss of any player this year. They lose so much -- scoring, hard work and physical play. Callahan had stepped up his game big-time after the loss of Marion Gaborik and Drury.
Now more pressure is on Brandon Dubinsky to continue his solid play.
If the Rangers hit a speed bump in the next month, the loss of Callahan will be the reason.
When I talk to Rangers fans I always get asked the question, "Why doesn't Torts play Sean Avery more?"
Well tonight that will not be in question. Against the Islanders, Sean Avery, every Rangers fan's favorite pest, will be on the top line with Marion Gaborik and Erik Christensen.
I believe this means two things: First, John Tortorella is looking for the right combination to get Gaborik going. Avery on the left side deserves a chance to be that guy. His nine assists this season is third on the team.
The second reason is Avery is at his best when he's engaged in the game. Meaning when he's focused on hockey and not stirring up trouble he's a pretty good hockey player. The reason Avery doesn't get more ice time is because Torts, I believe, doesn't trust Sean will stay out of trouble and may get the ref's arm to go up. Not just because Avery may take a dumb penalty but also because he rarely gets the benefit of the doubt from the officials.
A centered, focused and engaged Sean Avery is better for the Rangers and for Sean. Once he's scoring and helping the team win then maybe the "under your skin" style can be even more effective.
You see, when teams ignore Sean he becomes a compromised player.
Remember 2007. Avery drove the Thrashers crazy in the first round of the playoffs. The Rangers swept Atlanta. The next round the Sabres didn't pay Avery any mind. Sean didn't score a point and was a minus-5. Buffalo won in 6.
If Avery can contribute he becomes an all-around player. Then you can have the best of both worlds, a pest that can score.
Maybe against a struggling Islanders team it starts tonight.