One hundred and twenty days from today (Friday, February 5th) will mark the three year anniversary since the Rangers traded for Sean Avery, the man who most definitely had a role in sparking the 2006-2007 Ranger squad into a 17-4-6 run to make the playoffs. Avery, who has been nursing a sprained right knee, looks to return to the lineup Sunday when the Rangers host the Ducks (on MSG) in the first of a three game home-stand. Since hearing this, the question that has been on my mind is such that where will Avery fit into a lineup that has been (for the most part) skating well ?
Unfortunately, the odd-man out will most likely be Enver Lisin, who although playing up to par along with notching his first point as a Ranger, is the weakest link in this deep lineup. I don't think anyone in their right mind is about to break up Prospal-Dubinsky-Gaborik, and there is really no reason to break up Higgins-Drury-Callahan either. Therefore, this leaves the third line of Lisin-Anisimov-Kotalik and the fourth line of Voros-Boyle-Brashear. Let's dig a little deeper and lay out some scenarios.
Depth on a sports team is a wonderful problem to have, in general. It is the equivalent to trying to decide between taking the blonde or the brunette out (a problem I frequently have... ok maybe not). I think most of us will agree that we would prefer Avery on the ice over Lisin, as he is the type of player that when he steps on the ice people notice, which relieves pressure for others (in this case it would be Anisimov and Kotalik) to play more freely. This leads us to scenario #1, in which Avery replaces Lisin on the third line while Lisin enjoys the Petr Prucha/Aaron Voros Pressbox. This keeps the fourth line intact, and allows Tort's to freely roll three lines with confidence.
The fourth line is in the similar situation that the second line is in right now with the fact that there is no real reason to break up the big three; besides Aaron Voros' below-average skating along with his constant inability to stay on his feet. Thus, scenario #2 would be that Avery replaces Voros (or Brashear, but it would probably be Voros), on the fourth line. This doesn't make much sense, though, because Avery is not a fourth line player, especially in Torts' system.
The final scenario involves both lines and Avery, and could arguably be the most intriguing. Although everyone (of us fans) is ready to put Lisin in a suit and tie starting Sunday, let's not act so fast. After Saturday's win against the Devils, Tort's commented that Lisin "has played very well on the power play and has done some really good things offensively there and five-on-five." So, with that attitude from the coach, it's not out of the woods to think that Lisin will stay in the lineup somehow. The most logical explanation would be that Avery goes to the third line (LW), Lisin goes to the fourth line and replaces either Voros (again, most likely) or Brashear.
The huge curveball in all of this wackiness comes in the form of a 19-year-old Russian named Evgeny Grachev; who was recalled from Hartford yesterday as Ryan Callahan seems to be suffering from a "minor upper-body injury." Grachev did not make the team despite a great pre-season, but this shows how close he is to the NHL level with a call-up so soon. Callahan ended up playing a great game Thursday, scoring a goal and being one of the more active forwards all night. So with Cally seeming alright, and Avery still targeting a Sunday return, here is a possible lineup we could see for Sunday:
After Thursdays win against the Capitals, I really think Aaron Voros will be taking a seat, as he didn't play well at all and took a stupid holding penalty seven minutes into the third. Grachev, after being called up so quickly, might be in a tough spot as Lisin again had a good game with another assist against the Caps. The Rangers, like I said before, have a good problem here going with depth; but let's hope this year's squad doesn't catch the injury bug that the Blueshirts have been so lucky to avoid the past few seasons.