NEW YORK – The ghost of Sean Avery continues to haunt the Dallas Stars.
One year after the pesky winger was suspended by the league and the New York Rangers took him off the Stars’ hands by claiming him off waivers, Avery stung Dallas again by scoring a goal and three assists to lead New York past the Stars 5-2 at Madison Square Garden Wednesday night.
Avery, who is still having half of his salary paid by the Stars and counts about $2 million against Dallas’ salary cap figure, tied a career high with his four-point night.
The loss leaves the Stars with their first three-game regulation losing streak of the season, a stretch in which they’ve been outscored 12-3. They currently sit 10th in the Western Conference standings with an 18-14-11 record, a full five points behind the eighth and final playoff slot.
“I was getting paid by two teams,” Avery said. “That was the way that Sean Avery needs to play. I’ve got to stay consistent with it, and know that the support’s there for my teammates when something happens that maybe shouldn’t and know that the positives are going to outweigh the negatives.”
“He has a good shot, he always has worked hard,” said goaltender Marty Turco, who stopped 20 shots after sitting out the night before. “His intelligence on the ice has always been an issue - was with us and is there. But that just adds to the confusion for our club. It really has nothing to do with him.”
Offensively for Dallas, Brad Richards scored a goal and assist, while veteran Jere Lehtinen also found the back of the net. The Stars had six power plays, but were unable to capitalize on any, including a 54-second 5-on-3, and are now 0-for-11 with the man advantage over their last three contests.
Trailing 2-1 entering the second period, the Stars tied it up just 2:07 in, on Lehtinen’s third goal of the season. With Dallas mounting sustained pressure in the New York zone, Richards fed a pass out from behind the net to Lehtinen covering at the left point. Lehtinen let go a snap shot from the top of the left face-off circle that seemed to deflect off the leg of a Ranger defender in front before beating goaltender Henrik Lundqvist.
The Rangers would jump back on top for good on Ales Kotalik’s eight goal of the year at 8:23. On the rush into the Dallas zone, Kotalik stepped over the blue line and unleashed a scorching slap shot that beat Turco on the short side, pinging in off the goalpost to make it 3-2.
The Stars received a scare later in the period when center Mike Ribeiro received an accidental high-stick in the throat from New York’s Chris Higgins when the two collided in the neutral zone. Ribeiro did not return to action and went to the hospital to be examined further, and was set to stay overnight in New York as a pre-caution, along with Craig Lowry of the Stars’ medical staff. Ribeiro and Lowry are expected to fly back to Dallas on Thursday.
“It’s a contusion, and they’re just making sure his airways are all clear,” Stars coach Marc Crawford said of Ribeiro’s throat.
The resulting minor penalty gave the Stars a 54-second two-man power play, but they were unable to cash in and Crawford suggested it should have been a double-minor, even though no blood was spilled.
“If there’s an injury on the play, you’re supposed to get four minutes,” Crawford said. “They didn’t think it was a severe enough injury. That’s tough for them to call.”
Later, the Dallas penalty-killing unit was forced to kill off a double-minor to James Neal, and then two more penalties early in the third period.
Down by one entering the final period, the Stars fell behind 4-2 on another dagger from Avery at 8:57 of the third. Speeding into the Dallas zone, Avery pulled a nifty spin-a-rama move to evade Matt Niskanen in the left circle, and then fed a perfect cross-crease pass to a charging Chris Drury on the right side that the US Olympian deflected home.
“We battled our tails off tonight,” Crawford said. “We kill off all those penalties and our defense does a great job, and Matt Niskanen goes out and gets beat like he’s playing in a different league.”
The Stars tried mounting a late comeback, pulling Turco for an extra attacker with less than two minutes left, but that just led to an empty net goal by Ryan Callahan with 1:05 remaining to seal the deal.
The Stars got off to a quick start, as Richards scored his 12th goal of the season just 2:17 into the contest. Speeding into the Rangers’ zone, Richards attempted a centering pass from the left face-off circle, and the puck bounced off the behind of sliding New York defenseman Marc Staal and rolled past Lundqvist.
Less than two minutes later, James Neal was whistled for interfering with Lundqvist, and Avery made the Stars pay with a power play goal at 5:39. Avery collected a pass from Matt Gilroy at the Dallas blue line and drilled a slap shot from the left face-off circle that beat Turco on the short side to make it 1-1.
Marian Gaborik gave the Rangers a 2-1 advantage at 15:47 when he scored his NHL-leading 28th goal. After receiving a backhand pass from Avery on the rush, Gaborik stopped in front and then took a backhand swat at the bouncing puck and it squeezed under Turco’s pad.
After a disastrous two-game visit to the New York metropolitan area that saw the Stars outscored 9-2, the team returns home to Dallas to face the other NY-area team, the New York Islanders on Friday (7:30 pm start, FSSW). Featuring the NHL’s number one overall pick from last June’s draft, John Tavares, the Islanders have been surprisingly competitive this season, ranking ninth in the East, just one point back of eighth, with an 18-18-8 record.
- With his two-point night, Richards now has eight points in the last five games (two goals, six assists).
- Lehtinen now has seven points (two goals, five assists) in his last 10 outings, after registering just one goal and one assist in his first 17 contests this season.
- With an assist on Richards’ goal, winger Loui Eriksson now has six points (five goals, one assist) in his last five games.
- In addition to once again leading the squad in ice time with a whopping 27:01, defenseman Stephane Robidas also fired a game-high eight shots on goal.