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The New York Rangers clearly are a better team with Sean Avery in their lineup. The Los Angeles Kings haven't been any better without him in theirs.
Avery and the surging Rangers look to continue their climb up the Atlantic Division standings Tuesday night when they host the league-worst Kings.
Although Avery hasn't played a big offensive role in the Rangers' recent hot play, his ability to agitate the opposition has helped them win three straight and five of their last six games.
Avery will face his former team for the first time exactly one year to the day that New York (27-22-6) acquired him from the Kings (21-30-3) as part of a five-player deal. The Kings acquired checking forward Jason Ward - now with Tampa Bay - and forwards Marc-Andre Cliche and Jan Marek in that trade while the Rangers also picked up prospect John Seymour.
Avery had an immediate impact last season for the Rangers, tallying eight goals and 12 assists in 29 games. Limited to 30 games this season due to various injuries, Avery has four goals and 15 points.
The Rangers are 18-9-3 with Avery in their lineup and 9-13-3 when he is sidelined. That continues a trend from last season when New York finished the regular season on a 17-6-6 run after acquiring Avery.
Arguably the league's most disappointing team in the first half of this season, the Rangers have been better lately. They have gone 7-3-1 in their last 11 games to move within three points of Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and New Jersey for the lead in the Atlantic.
After outscoring Philadelphia and New Jersey 7-1 in road wins on consecutive nights, New York scored five unanswered goals Sunday in a 5-3 victory at Montreal.
Chris Drury continued his red-hot play with the go-ahead goal midway through the third period as the Rangers erased a 3-0 second-period deficit.
"Hopefully, it says a lot," Drury said. "Hopefully, we grab on to this and it carries us to some more wins down the stretch here because that was definitely a big win for us, on the road and down by three."
Drury, who scored a career-high 37 goals last season for Buffalo, is enjoying his best stretch of the season with four goals and two assists in his last three games.
Fellow center Scott Gomez also has been hot with two goals and eight assists in his last eight games.
The Kings still own the NHL's worst record, but have been a much-improved team lately. They are 6-3-1 in their last 10 games overall, and 5-2-1 in their last eight on the road.
After recording three points in their first two stops on an eight-game road trip, the Kings fell 6-3 at New Jersey on Saturday.
"We had the work ethic we needed in the third period," coach Marc Crawford said. "We were a little too casual. You need attention to detail in your play all the time. We got it in the third period and made a little bit of a push but that was the type of intensity we needed from the first period on."
Brian Boyle scored in his NHL debut, and Jack Johnson and Lubomir Visnovsky also had goals for Los Angeles, which is 3-0-1 in its last four meetings with the Rangers.
This is the Kings' first visit to Madison Square Garden since a 6-2 victory on Oct. 25, 2002.