Friday, March 11, 2011

Enough With The Excuses, Gaborik Must Rise To The Occasion Down The Stretch

Paul Bereswill/Getty Images
The New York Rangers have 13 games left in this season and as of this moment they are still in the playoffs without their best offensive player producing anywhere near his capabilities.  If they want to stay there it is well beyond time that Marian Gaborik step his game up and get beyond the struggles for consistent goal scoring he has suffered from all season.  One of the few things as frustrating as the lack of goal scoring from Gaborik has been the sheer number of excuses and apologists that have come out looking to explain why he has struggled so mightily.  Yes, he has been hurt at different points this year.  Yes, he does not have elite talent to play with him.  Yes, the team does play a grinding style that is not particularly suited for Gaborik’s playing style.  No, those are not valid excuses to explain why in 49 games this season a world class sniper like Marian Gaborik has 18 goals, all which have come in just 11 games.  Reality is if the excuses do not end and the goals begin then the Rangers will lose out on all the hard work that has gone into this season and fall short of the playoffs again.
The latest attempt to explain Gaborik’s ineffectiveness was from Larry Brooks today in the NY Post when he discussed how coach John Tortorella needs to let Gaborik be Gaborik.
There's been a push and pull all year and it hasn't worked.
John Tortorella, the coach, has publicly (and assuredly more pointedly behind closed doors) attempted to prod Marian Gaborik into becoming a card-carrying member of the Black-and-Blueshirts' shot-blocking wall-battlers.
Wednesday morning, even in praising Gaborik's performance against the Flyers, Tortorella made a reference to "grinding." There were no such references last year when Gaborik finished fifth in the league in goal scoring.
We get it. Gaborik has the same responsibility to compete as every one of his teammates. But we can tell you that dynastic Islanders' coach Al Arbour never once called for Mike Bossy to be a grinder in the mold of teammates Clark Gillies, John Tonelli, Bob Nystrom and Duane Sutter. Are you kidding?
The point Brooks is pushing towards is a valid one in that asking Gaborik to play the game the Rangers’ “less skilled” players have to play is not going to work because it does not fit his skill set.  The problem is that Brooks is pushing this as if Gaborik is doing the things he is capable of doing and just not getting enough ice time to show it.  He was invisible for the first two periods the other night and that had nothing to do with John Tortorella.  The problem with Gaborik is the same as it has been all season; he is not skating. 
No one is to blame for Gaborik’s lack of aggressiveness skating or in the offensive zone except him.  It is that lack of being a threat that is making it easy for him to be defended.  When you remove all the excuses and watch Gaborik in every game that he has played well this season you notice him in front of the net, you notice him taking guys on one-on-one, you notice him constantly moving.  The Rangers need Marian to be that dynamic threat that everyone in the building rises to their feet every time he touches the puck.  The need to opponent’s to fear him on every shift.  They need him to get back to doing what makes him so dangerous to play against.  That begins with his skating and carrying the puck instead of dumping it in.  It continues with shooting off the rush as it will create not only space, but rebounds for his teammates. 
When he plays along the wall and drifts around the ice aimlessly he is useless to this team and there is no reason to give him more ice time.  To toss the blame for a player struggling is the easiest thing that one can do, but that does not mean the blame does not belong on the player’s shoulders.  That is not to say the reasons/excuses all have not individually and collectively played a role in the season that Gaborik has had but it is well past time to ditch the crutches and hold Gaborik accountable for his own performance.  If Gaborik is skating the results will take care of themselves and then if he is still getting 14 minutes a night, I will gladly point the finger at the coaches for not using him properly. Until he does what he needs to do in having an impact while he is on the ice there is no reason to just hand him more time for the sake of saying he is the star.  Stars find a way to produce in the face of the adversities that everyone is claiming as his reasons for not producing, not hide behind them.  He did not have elite linemates in Minnesota, yet he produced.  He played in a defense first system in Minnesota, yet he produced.  He was injured a lot in Minnesota, yet he produced. 
There are 13 games left in the regular season so the time for excuses for Gaborik and everyone else must end and the performance must show up or the team will go down, simple as that.