Sean Avery 2

Avery Distraction: Good or Bad?

by Mark Owens

Avery’s most recent controversy stems from his comical attempt to block Marty Brodeur’s view during Sunday’s 5-on-3 Rangers power play. He succeeded in flustering Brodeur, who should have been assessed a roughing penalty for punching Avery, or a slashing penalty for the stick to Avery’s groin while this happened. He wasn’t, but the Rangers did score.

The Sean Avery Rule was born. Now, referees can assess a two-minute unsportsmanlike conduct penalty to any player who turns his back to the play and waives his arms and stick to block the goalie’s vision. Fair enough.

But what effect will all this negative attention have on the Rangers going into game four at MSG Wednesday night? What effect did it have Sunday night as the Rangers seemed to unravel after that play and goal by taking three consecutive penalties at the end of the second period? What effect will it have on Avery, who has excelled so far in these playoffs? On the Devils? The referees?

I believe it will be business as usual for the veteran Ranger team. They know what they have to improve from Sunday’s second period gaffes and overtime letdown. Avery’s antics have taken focus away from the fact that Chris Drury has not produced this series (no goals or assists and just three shots on goal). Drury needs to contribute while getting Nigel Dawes involved in the offense.

I also believe Avery’s antics somehow influenced the referees to clamp down on the entire team after that, since Avery may have gotten one over on them during the 5-on-3. I really believe the referees did not know how to handle it, and whether an actual penalty was in order. The result: four straight Devils power plays, zero Ranger power plays over the remainder of the game, despite the Rangers’ domination in period three.

The most important question is what effect this will have on Avery. He has scored a goal in each of the three games while playing his usual aggressive, in-your-face game. He needs to continue that without going over the line and giving the referees a chance to single him out for penalties, like when he back-skated into Brodeur in the first period, drawing a two-minute interference penalty. He can’t do that. Let’s face it, Brodeur or any other goalie or player for that matter, will get the benefit of the doubt when Avery is involved. We need him on the ice, not in the penalty box.

Avery’s shenanigans might actually help the Rangers if the Devils lose their focus and go out of their way to punish him. The Devils won Sunday night because their backs were to the wall and the Rangers helped them by taking bad penalties and sleep-walking in the overtime period ‘ not because Sean Avery fired them up in any way.

Finally, I’m curious to see how the referees treat Avery the rest of this series, and playoffs. When Mike Rupp pokes at the goalie’s glove when the puck is frozen he is not penalized. What about when Avery does something like that? Something tells me Avery would have gotten the extra penalty minutes in an exchange like the one Rupp started shortly after Avery’s 5-on-3 goal. That scrum and generous non-call by the refs is probably what really got the Devils’ momentum going and the Rangers unraveled as they took penalties and squandered the lead Avery had given them.

Was the string of calls on Rangers/non-calls on Devils influenced by Avery’s behavior? Probably. Were they the result of the hissy fits thrown by John Madden, Jamie Langenbrunner, Brent Sutter and Lou Lamoriello at the end of game two when the calls went against the Devils? I think so, especially when Jay Pandolfo was allowed to bear-hug Michal Rozsival in overtime, freeing the puck for Madden to fire towards the net and into the goal off Marc Staal‘s skate.

Do you think the refs wanted to subject themselves ‘ and their boss ‘ to Lamoriello’s wrath by calling Pandolfo for interference on that play, in overtime? It shouldn’t have affected their decision making, but I’m pretty sure it did.

It will all come out in the wash Wednesday night, and until the series is decided. Regardless, Avery rules!

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