Sunday, November 28, 2010

Is Marian Gaborik Holding Brandon Dubinsky Back?

Over the past few years the Rangers have been marred by inconsistency both in play and in overall results.  This season they have still had the rollercoaster feel at times, but the most consistent of all Rangers forwards, if not players I terms of effort and production has been Brandon Dubinsky.  From the moment he had his hot start to the season there has been a section of Rangers fans who could not believe the results due to past inconsistency and have been waiting for the slump to happen.  I will admit that I was not necessarily in the belief a slump was due, but more that the production would slow down especially with how well he was playing carrying the offensive load in the absence of Marian Gaborik and Vinny Prospal.  The slump just kept getting pushed back and back and then over the last five games I was not seeing the same level of effectiveness from Dubinsky in terms of creating chances on the offensive side of the ice.  There were references to the possibility that the line had gotten stale along with the dropping of hints as to the fatigue of the team without naming names as a reason for the drop in production.  Both of those could be very valid, but I started to think back to something I wrote when Marian Gaborik was coming back.  I said the following:
One of the keys for the Rangers though will be treat the game as if he still is not in the lineup.  What I mean is when you have a superstar out the other players feel the urgency to raise their individual and collective games and in this stretch certain players like Dubinsky and Boyle in particular did that, but what cannot happen is they fall into a lull thinking the star is back and will now carry the team.  If the Rangers play the way they showed they can without Gaborik and add his skill into the lineup the results overall should improve.
What I was noticing more and more was that Dubinsky was letting his offensive game take a back seat to Gaborik instead of pressing the issue as he was when Gaborik was out of the lineup.  Obviously this is not Marian Gaborik’s fault because it a mentality problem for Brandon but it does speak to how a superstar can in some ways stunt the growth of others around him.  What I mean is on a two-on-one if the superstar is not there, the player may shoot the puck while with him they look to force the pass instead of just playing their own game.  For Dubinsky the change has been most evident on the powerplay where he was running he unit with his puck possession along wall a lot while Gaborik was out and creating chances for himself or teammates but with Gaborik he was deferring.

Join me inside for more on how last night was different and the stats to possibly support what is being seen by my eyes.
Last night with Gaborik out of the lineup all of those thoughts crystallized for me again as I watched a different version of Dubinsky hit the ice in that his desire and determination level was ramped way back up.  That is not to say that Dubinsky was playing poorly with Gaborik in the lineup or that he was not trying but his impact was noticeably diminished as a whole in the games after Gaborik returned expect for the Pittsburgh game where he willed them to those points in the end.  While most of this is just a feel thing for me in terms of watching Dubinsky with and without Gaborik around there are some statistics that lend some credence to what I think I am seeing.

With his assist last night, Brandon Dubinsky, now has 12 goals and 8 assists in 25 games this season.  In the 13 games in which Gaborik has missed, Dubinsky has 8 goals and 4 assists, while scoring 4 goals and 4 assists in the 12 games in which  Gaborik has played.  To amplify those numbers Dubinsky only scored 1 goal and had 3 assists in the 9 games following Gaborik’s return from injury.  To demonstrate the differential his “selfishness” or “aggressiveness” Dubinsky has 24 shots in the games Gaborik has played; 16 (5 in one game, 1 or fewer in five games) in the ones following the return as compared to 31 shots (1 or fewer only three times) in games where he did not play.

There is an argument to make that it is not necessarily Gaborik at all but the decrease in playing time that naturally occurs from him getting more minutes and also the fact that Tortorella has been dividing minutes with the schedule to keep guys fresher, but here are the stats on minutes.  Dubinsky has played over 20 minutes in a game 14 times this year (only 4 with Gaborik) and in those games he has 8G, 8A.  Brandon has played under 20 minutes in a game 11 times this year (8 with Gaborik) and in those games he has 4G 0A.  It could be completely coincidental that the production for Dubinsky declines when he plays less minutes or it could be that he gets better the more he plays.  There is also the flip side that says the better you play the more minutes you get in a chicken or the egg type conversation.

As I said before while the title speaks to how Gaborik is holding back Dubinsky I do not blame Gaborik for it as it is not something he is doing being some sort of diva superstar, but the overall numbers do speak to the feeling I get watching Dubinsky play differently when Marian is in the lineup as opposed to not.  The Rangers need for the version of Dubinsky that plays when Gaborik is unavailable to play the same game when they do have Gaborik available.  Now the plan before Gaborik missed tonight’s game was to have them on a line together as they were against Florida, and that should help to solve the minutes problem for Dubinsky, but would it solve the issue of him deferring to Gaborik to do the heavier lifting on the offensive end?  Brandon is a player who while very talented has his game built around a level of aggressiveness that dictates his effectiveness.  If Dubinsky is not getting in on the forecheck, cycling the puck and being aggressive on the penalty kill his offense lags because it is that mentality which makes him more capable of striking against the opponents. 

In short Brandon Dubinsky has shown in the absence of Marian Gaborik that he can play at a first line/impact player level the next challenge for him is to believe he can and should continue to do it even when the Rangers star forward is in the lineup with him.  When Dubinsky takes that next step or clears that mental hurdle, that is the point the slumps will truly stop and he will take another step to being an elite player in the league.