Hailing the passive resistance of the Rangers’ recently reacquired Sean Avery (above), the New York Times’ Jeff Z. Klein calls the former Vogue intern, “not merely a Zen master” in the Blueshirts’ 3-0 dispatch of New Jersey last night, but “a Machiavellian Zen master.”

Mike Mottau, who hit Avery with some big body checks early in the game, said Avery had challenged him to a fight late in the first period. It certainly looked that way, given that Avery crosschecked Mottau in the back after Martin Brodeur had smothered an Avery shot, then backed away.

œHe shook his gloves and I was at the end of a shift and then the refs got in there, Mottau told Gulitti. œI said I™d fight him the next shift, and after the TV timeout we lined up next to one another and he wouldn™t fight me.

(If the refs had gotten wind of it, that would have counted as an appointment fight, which the league now considers a suspension-worthy offense.)

In the third period, David Clarkson grabbed Avery during a scrum. Avery dropped one glove, then let himself be thrown around by Clarkson, which resulted in Clarkson™s expulsion from the game.

œI was just trying to spark the guys, Clarkson told Gulitti. œHe had one glove thrown down and he had his fist cocked back, so that™s kind of why. I™m trying to spark the team and he had his one hand cocked back in a fist. I don™t know how. Say he throws a punch and hits me. I™m the guy that loses.

Avery is provoking reactions from other players, then doing nothing in hopes of drawing a penalty. It™s a smart and effective tactic ” but it™s also exactly the kind of thing players cite in polls when they repeatedly vote him the most hated man in the league.