The New York Rangers’ Saturday night shootout win over the San Jose Sharks was interesting in that it was the first time this season Sean Avery was a health scratch.
Avery seems to have spent most of this season in coach John Tortorella’s doghouse, but this was the first time Tortorella felt compelled to scratch Avery.
But to be fair, it was also one of the few times this season Tortorella had enough healthy bodies to make scratching Avery a viable enterprise.
Avery’s time on the ice has dwindled under Tortorella’s coaching. He averaged 13:23 minutes per game last season and this season he’s down to an average 11:36 minutes per minutes per game, very rarely seeing much action in the third period.
Avery has shown some chemistry with Marian Gaborik, but never really solidified a permanent place on his line.
While some fans have clamored for Tortorella to unleash Avery, it seems Tortorella is actually making a smart decision.
Avery has been playing very well with less ice time this season. Avery’s played 28 games with 10 minutes or less of ice time this season. In those games, he’s a +1. In the 41 games Avery has played more than 10 minutes per game, he’s a -2.
Compare those numbers to last season, when Avery played just two games with 10 minutes or less of ice time. He was -2 in those two games, compared to the +2 he was in the 67 games where he had more than 10 minutes of ice time per game.
And compare those to the 18 regular season games Avery played for the Rangers in 2008-09, where he was a +3, and never saw less than 13:56 minutes per game.
The contemporary Avery is simply more productive in smaller bursts of ice time. Which shouldn’t be surprising, given Avery’s game. His game is to get under the skin of opponents. You can call him an energy player or a pest or an agitator, but when he’s playing that particular role, that’s when he’s most effective. But it’s not a role that requires a regular shift.
This is something Tortorella seems to have realized. When he limits Avery’s ice time, Avery seems to go out to try and make the most of his opportunity. He doesn’t take shifts for granted because he doesn’t know when the next one is coming.
By scratching Avery, Tortorella could be trying to motivate Avery. Or he could be trying to get all of his forwards ice time as he tries to prepare his team for the playoffs. Or, perhaps most simply, maybe Tortorella just doesn’t like Avery’s game, which is basically a lot of puck handling behind the net with blind passes into the slot.
Whatever the reason for being a healthy scratch in San Jose, Avery has to feel he’s being sent some kind of message by his coach and he has to figure out the best way to respond to the message.
Avery’s been good in short bursts, so maybe the best course is to just continue being effective in those small windows of ice time. Or maybe he needs to figure out how to be effective for more than 10 minutes a game. Or perhaps, Tortorella wants Avery to become less of a pest and more of a defensive player.
Whatever the message Tortorella was trying to send to Avery, if Avery wants to earn more ice time from his coach, he needs to figure out how to be effective for longer periods of time. Otherwise, Avery will continue to see his ice time curtailed.
Avery has been good in short bursts this season. But until he masters long bursts, Tortorella might just decide it’s less complicated to make Avery a healthy scratch more often.