The New York Rangers are coming off two wins in a row—no thanks to Marian Gaborik, the team’s star winger who has gone M.I.A more than a few times this season. Gaborik, who has missed a total of 14 games, has now been in the lineup steadily, so being rusty or not getting into a rhythm can no longer be used as excuses. There is a considerable difference in his style of play, compared to last season. Now, I’ve missed some of the more recent games, but what I have noticed this season is a player who looks afraid to shoot the puck. He will drive to the net, and use that powerful stride, then pass the puck. The problem is, he does not have the line-mates that could capitalize on his playmaking ability, and furthermore, he’s not getting paid $7 million to pass.
Marian Gaborik scored 42 goals last season because he used his quick release from all angles of the ice. In the 76 games he played last season, he put 272 shots on goal, for an average of 3.6 shots per game. Through 28 games this season, his 80 shots give him an average of 2.9 a game. This might not seem like much, but the near one shot less he is getting per game could be the goal he scored last season, which instead has become a pass this season.
The Rangers played exceptionally well in his absence that took half of October and the first 11 days of November, but if they are going to be contenders they will need Gaborik to step it up. Fans can hope for, but not buy into Brad Richards coming to Broadway. Dallas is in first place in their division and have more than $7 million in cap space. Why exactly would they trade Richards? They may lose him this summer (probably to the Rangers via free agency) but with their current team, should they add one or two more pieces, they can be a legitimate contender, and will need Richards (18-29-47) to do that.
If for whatever reason Dallas does decide to trade him to the Rangers, he could not hurt this current lineup. Gaborik has been playing with a different center almost every game, sometimes two different centers in the same game. His center last season was a career winger, Vinny Prospal, and he still put up 42 goals. We really cannot count on Vinny Prospal returning from his knee injury, or if he does, to actually be able to keep up with and contribute with Gaborik. Richards would give Gaborik, for the first time in his career, a true superstar center, and on paper, it would seem like a dream duo. (But when the Rangers look good on paper, how often does it translate to actual play?)
The night in Tampa Bay where he scored the game-tying goal to send the game to OT with under a minute to go, I thought would be his breakout game. Just minutes earlier I had joked on Twitter, “Hey guys, I found Marian Gaborik…on the back of a milk carton” and felt like an idiot when he scored. I felt they were going to win the game and he would turn it around, but neither happened as the Rangers’ rally was killed just seconds into the extra frame. Gaborik’s 11 goals and 11 assists in 28 games are not bad by any means, but if you take away his two hat-trick games, which both included an assist as well, he has 5 goals and 9 assists in the remaining 20 games, which is pretty bad, at least for someone of his caliber.
Part of his struggles are his own fault. He flies into the offensive zone and looks to pass rather than use his lethal wrist shot. This needs to stop—Tortorella has to get him back to where he was last season, and even if he is at an angle where he doesn’t think he can score, to shoot anyway, because he may catch the goaltender off guard. The other part of it is their center situation. Brandon Dubinsky and Ruslan Fedetenko have been good line-mates but they too will fizzle out, because that is what has been happening for the last season and a half—players go on Gaborik’s line, have success for five games, then disappear. Just ask Erik Christensen, whose depression-like moods and gloomy self-doubting interviews glow as a beacon of confidence and inspiration for this team’s offensive prowess.
So unless Gaborik is guarding another injury we do not know about, he needs to start showing up to games more often. The Rangers cannot afford to have him take less shots, especially when they are hanging in games late, looking for just one goal to tie it, or one to win it. I’ll assume that he is not injured, and the Rangers need to look to see what centers there are available, other than Brad Richards. Derek Stepan worked for a while, but he’s a rookie and that puts a lot of pressure on him. Last season I suggested Brian Boyle, and it would seem that is more fitting this year because of his offensive outburst, but his chemistry has been so good on the third line, I would not interrupt it.
Perhaps maybe a benching for one game would work? It’s not like the Rangers would be missing much without him…