When looking at the raw ice time numbers, there are a lot of conclusions drawn about the ice time given to Sean Avery (over the last few games) and Erik Christensen (last night). There were a few angry tweets from what appears to be the majority of fans thinking that Avery got the shaft because he received so little ice time, while Christensen is clearly favored because of the ice time he got last night.
Looking at the total ice time, it’s easy to see why people would jump to those conclusions. In Buffalo, Avery received just six shifts for a grand total of 3:48 of ice time. Last night at the Garden, Christensen received 16 shifts for a total of 12:54 in ice time. Looking at those numbers alone, it would appear that Christensen indeed has more favor with the coach than Avery. But looking deeper at the numbers, that’s not exactly true.
Against the Sabres, Avery played each of his six shifts at even strength, and did not receive one shift on the powerplay or on the penalty kill. Two shifts at even strength per period is exactly what is expected of a fourth line player who does not receive –or deserve– any time on special teams, especially in a game that was not decided until the third period. That in itself is why Avery’s ice time appears to be diminished.
Looking at Christensen, it’s easy to see why he has more ice time: he plays the powerplay. In last night’s win over Florida, the Rangers had three powerplays. One went the full two minutes, one went 1:08, and the last one went 1:55. That’s a total of 5:03 of powerplay time for the Rangers throughout the game. Christensen received an extra 1:29 of powerplay time. That plays into his extra ice time.
Another aspect of his increased ice time last night: The Rangers blew out the Panthers. The game was decided long before the third period began, so coach John Tortorella began playing his fourth line more often. In a non-blowout situation, a coach generally rolls his lines in a 1-2-3, 1-2-3-4 pattern. What that means is that he will play his first line, second line, and third line in a row. Then he will start again with his first line, and go through to his fourth line. This rotation generally repeats itself.
*-Naturally there is more to this (matchups, special teams), but for the sake of this post I’m simplifying it.
With the game out of reach for the Panthers, Tortorella ditched the usual rotation and rolled his fourth line more often, giving Christensen more ice time late in the second period and for the entirety of the third period. This explains his 11:25 of even strength TOI.
Let’s remember that before Christensen wound up a healthy scratch, his last game was the 2-1 loss to Florida last month. He played just 8:01 during the game, with 6:05 coming at even strength. That’s an extra two shifts over Avery’s ice time from Buffalo. This was Christensen’s first game in a month, where Avery played in each of the games that he was a healthy scratch.
Let’s also remember that these are fourth line players, and neither will be with the club next year. Perspective is important too.