- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 25, 2009

When the New York Rangers took the ice for Game 5 on Friday night with a chance to close out the series, something was missing. They looked a step slow and couldn’t match the Washington Capitals’ intensity.

That missing element was the man who has been at the center of the drama for the Rangers - Sean Avery.

The agitating left wing was scratched from New York’s lineup after committing two bad penalties in the waning minutes of Game 4. But without Avery, the Rangers lacked a spark, and their offense never got going in a 4-0 loss to the Caps.

“A lot of things weren’t there tonight,” Rangers coach John Tortorella said. “I have to answer questions, and I really don’t have an answer for you. … We just didn’t play well.”

Tortorella was combative with media members earlier Friday when talking about whether Avery would be in the lineup. Avery’s status has been a hot topic since Wednesday, when he was whistled for roughing and high-sticking in the final 10 minutes, but Tortorella said he wasn’t going to feed into the Avery conversation.

And while it would seem he was doing just that by scratching Avery, he refused to talk about his decision.

“No, I’m not gonna explain it in this forum,” Tortorella said. “It’s my decision, and that’s what it was.”

Avery, who hasn’t talked to reporters during the playoffs, walked out of the locker room and past reporters without commenting on his removal.

Without Avery’s antics, the Rangers struggled offensively weren’t as strong on defense. They often initiated scrums after the whistle but never bothered the Caps.

Of course, Avery’s absence wasn’t the sole reason the Rangers couldn’t muster anything on the offensive end. A lack of scoring had been a problem for New York dating to the regular season. And those old issues resurfaced Friday night because of too many penalties, an ineffective power play and too many mistakes in five-on-five play.

“When they get momentum and their top guys get buzzing around… and we take penalties, it makes for a long night,” Rangers captain Chris Drury said.

The penalty problem started early. Scott Gomez was called for slashing 1:16 into the first, the first of three penalties for the visitors in the period. New York finished with 38 penalty minutes.

Spending too much time killing penalties, the offense never got into a rhythm. The Rangers had 10 shots through two periods and finished with just 20.

Much of the offensive malaise was the continuation of problems the Rangers have experienced all series. Despite leading the series, New York hadn’t busted out with a lot of goals since they scored four on Jose Theodore in Game 1.

The Rangers struggled especially on the power play. They couldn’t even keep the puck in the offensive zone, let alone set up. They were 0-for-5 with the man advantage, and it got so bad that 17 of the Rangers’ 18 skaters earned time on the power play.

“We weren’t really creating anything offensively or getting chances or cycling like we usually do,” defenseman Marc Staal said. “That’ll cost you when you’re continually backed into your own zone.”

It cost the Rangers a lot Friday night, notably a chance to close out the series. But despite the sluggish play and road loss, Tortorella stressed that not everything was terrible about his team’s situation going back to Madison Square Garden for Game 6.

“We’re up 3-2,” he said. “If you asked me at the beginning of the series being up 3-2 going home, I’ll sign up. There’s no sense of being down about it.”