Monday, December 6, 2010

Will The Real Marian Gaborik Please Stand Up/Step Up?

The Rangers Need To See More of these (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

The New York Rangers signed Marian Gaborik in the 2009 offseason to be their star on offense and to help lead this team to higher levels.  Last season offensively Gaborik was tremendous putting in 42 goals and adding 44 assists while staying healthier than many expected and playing in 76 games.  On the surface one would look at his numbers from this year and think 15 points in 16 games means that Gaborik is doing his job and producing for the club.  Frankly for me that is simply not the case and the Rangers 16-12-1 is as much in spite of the performance as because of it.  The season for Gaborik has been a series of stops and starts, ups and downs and no consistent production on the offensive side of the ledger.  The early injury along with the illness has been part of what has prevented that consistency but at the same time he is a world class player and production is necessary when he is in there.  For Gaborik to miss 13 of the teams 29 games and be held off the scoresheet in 7 games he has played while only has two multi-point efforts is not what the Rangers need or expect from him.  So will the real Marian Gaborik please stand up and lead this offense?

Coming into the year Gaborik was expected to produce as he did last season along with the yearly hope that some of the free agent moves, mainly Alex Frolov, would add secondary scoring to help Gaborik and the inconsistent offense.  Not three games into the season Gaborik got hurt on a hit from Colby Armstrong would knock Marian out of the lineup for the following 12 games.  The Rangers thanks to the elevated play of Brandon Dubinsky, Ryan Callahan, Artem Anisimov and Brian Boyle were able to stay above water and score in the absence of their star winger.

Marian Gaborik would return to the lineup against the Buffalo Sabres on November 11th and in that game he would fail to record any points but he was a threatening presence who just seemed to suffer from the natural rust of missing nearly a full month of action.  In the following game against the Edmonton Oilers from the drop of the opening puck Gaborik was a man on a mission and he would dazzle with his performance.  By the time the final horn went Gaborik had three goals and an assist and everyone proclaimed him to be back to the form of a year ago.  In the following game Gaborik was a complete non-factor as Brooks Orpik and the Penguins took him out of the game holding him scoreless.  Against Boston much of the same happened for two periods and then in the third after having Derek Stepan put with him, Gaborik would score on a breakaway created by Stepan and have several other chances. 

Gaborik would have assists in three of the next four games the Rangers played but his impact on those games had a very minimal feel to it as he was not making himself a threat to the opponents.  This culminated in coach John Tortorella calling out Gaborik following the Rangers embarrassing performance in Tampa just before Thanksgiving.  The next game Gaborik would respond as while he was held off the scoresheet he played a much more involved and threatening game against the Panthers.  He would miss the Nashville game with the flu, but would come back against the Penguins and play a lot of minutes for someone who was said to be as ill as he was.  In the game he would make an impact on the scoresheet with a beautiful wrist shot after a stretch pass from Michal Rozsival that would be the Rangers only tally of the game.

Last Thursday against the Islanders Gaborik had another performance nearly identical to his against Edmonton as he would go out with his new line combination of himself, Erik Christensen and Sean Avery and from the opening shift show that he was not going to be denied tallying another hat-trick and an assist game including the game winner.  The problem is that in the two games following Gaborik has once again disappeared into the background and not been a threat leading his coach to more subtly call him out following the game against Ottawa in comparison to him manner following the Tampa game. 

As I said at the outset Gaborik was brought here to be the star offensive player and while his overall numbers might look good at 15 points in 16 games they are very deceiving.  Marian has eight goals on the year and six of those are in those two games along with eight of his fifteen points.  So that means in the other 14 games that Gaborik has played he has a total of 2 goals and 5 assists and that frankly is just not enough from your star.  Interestingly the Rangers are undefeated this year when Marian Gaborik has registered a plus rating for the game, but the problem is he has only done that 3 times.  

Beyond the point totals though the frustration is that Gaborik is having very little impact on the games themselves and they just frankly need more from him.  While Dubinsky, Callahan, Anisimov and Boyle all helped to carry the team in his absence each of them has tailed off since his return and fair or unfair it is Gaborik’s role on this club to be the offensive leader and while he cannot be expected to score every night he has to be a threat in each game because when he is the rest of the lineup relaxes and gets their own games going.

The Rangers have developed an identity when Gaborik doesn’t play of a tough grinding team that finds ways to score goals by outworking the other team, but they do not seem to collectively play that same way when Gaborik is in the lineup.  Many players are sitting back, watching and waiting for the talent Gaborik has to leave it’s impression on the game.  No place is this more evident than on the powerplay where with Gaborik, the most gifted offensive player, in the lineup the team is a paltry 9/56 with the man advantage when you consider that without him they are a virtually identical 8/50.  The team as a unit is waiting for Gaborik to have a plan with the man advantage and since he does not have one nor does he have the overall aggressive attitude right now the team is back on its heels with the man up.

Marian is a gifted offensive player and before we get to the excuses about the injury and the illness let us remember that his best game in both cases was the second game back so you cannot claim the rust after you have a tremendous game.  The Rangers overall only go as far as Lundqvist can carry them but a team with limited offensive weapons the burden on Gaborik is nearly as large and it is time he step up to meet that level consistently this year; especially against better competition.