With about eight minutes remaining in the third period and the Rangers trailing the Maple Leafs by two goals on Thursday night, a clearly frustrated Garden crowd began to chant in unison: We want Avery! We want Avery! We want Avery!
The Rangers needed a spark, but fan-favorite Sean Avery was nowhere to be found.
“We have players that can bring spark here for this group,” Henrik Lundqvist said after the Rangers were drubbed, 4-2, in their home opener by Toronto. “Obviously, Aves he is one of a kind when it comes to playing the game the way he plays it, and he brings a lot to the table. He’s a great player obviously, but right now the management thinks this is the best team possible and we’re just gonna go with that.”
“We were lethargic both physically and mentally,” said coach John Tortorella, who cut the controversial forward before the start of the season.
Tortorella’s decision may turn out to be a smart one, but it doesn’t look that way now.
And the unpopular move has certainly angered the fanbase.
Prior to Thursday night’s dud, a Rangers fan sitting in section 427 at the Garden unveiled a massive banner in an effort to voice his displeasure.
“AVERY 16 SEND TORTS TO THE WHALE,” the banner read, referring to Avery’s current Ranger standing in minor-league purgatory.
The banner stayed up until there was 8:06 remaining in the opening stanza, when it was apparently ripped down.
A Rangers season-ticket holder named Don, who wouldn’t reveal his last name, told ESPN NewYork.com he created the banner because he was upset that Avery’s checking-line left wing spot has been taken by Kris Newbury.
“Newbury skates around and looks like he's lost,” said Don, who was seated in the first row of section 427 on Thursday, but says he sits all over the Garden. “For the six minutes Sean was on the ice he really fired up the crowd.”
In five games this season, Newbury has no points and 24 penalty minutes.
Although Tortorella has always touted his team’s identity as blue-collar and hard-working, he let go a player who embodies that exact description, which didn’t sit too well with Don.
“That’s hypocritical,” Don said, adding that he does respect the coach.
Don said he plans to come up with more banners in the future, possibly with the words, “AVERY IS GONNA HAUNT THEM FOREVER.”
Avery, who is currently playing for the Rangers’ AHL affiliate, the Connecticut Whale, but has yet to dress for a game, told ESPN NewYork.com’s Katie Strang a week ago that he doubts he’ll ever be recalled. The 31-year-old also said he doesn’t believe he got a fair shot to make the team in training camp. He lost out on the 13th forward spot to Erik Christensen.
“I don't want to jam up Sean here; I think we have better players than Sean Avery, plain and simple,” Tortorella told reporters during the team's preseason tour in Sweden.
Avery said he isn’t viewing his AHL status as a last shot to make it in the NHL or with the Rangers.
“I can still play in the NHL," he said. “There's no question about that."