Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Where Has Brandon Dubinsky Gone? From Team MVP to MIA

Chris Trotman/Getty Images
This New York Rangers team continues to fight, scratch, and claw through these games, but they are continually coming up a goal short in these comeback attempts.  The fact that they are falling short is not about effort, and not about an inability to create chances, but it is about their lack of finishing ability.  There are many players who are guilty of that issue, but with Marian Gaborik out there is really only one forward that in the past has shown the capability to help carry this offense; Brandon Dubinsky.  The problem however is that when the team really needs him right now he has disappeared in much the way he used to.  After scoring 38 points in his first 45 games this season, the 24-year-old winger has a grand total of five in his last 15 games.  The question left behind is, what is wrong with Brandon Dubinsky?
In the first 45 games of the year Dubinsky was clearly the team’s best and one of their most consistent forwards.  You could, and I did, argue that he was their MVP through both the first quarter and first half of the season.  What was on display was a player who had matured significantly in terms of his consistency, leadership and point production.  Gone were the questions from previous seasons about what it was in Dubinsky's game that allowed him to look like a top line player one night and invisible the next.  His will in each game was the most impressive thing about him as there were games where he would just decide that the team was not losing that night and put the club on his back.  He would be all over the ice in terms of hitting, stealing the puck, rushing the puck, forechecking, cycling and creating scoring chances.  It was to the point where even on a team that has built an identity on collective work and everyone stepping up for one another he seemed to be the driving force on the team.  Is it a coincidence that while that guy has disappeared over his last 15 games the team has struggled as much as it has?  One way to tell that might be to look at his production in wins vs losses.


Let me preface this by saying that most players will produce more when the team wins than loses, but these numbers are startling.  Maybe I give Dubinsky too much credit, but I believe there is a correlation between his lack of impact and the Rangers struggles to get over the hump is some of these games.  As you can see from the numbers in general in the 30 wins the team has had with him in the lineup he is a point per game player.  In the 30 games the team has lost with him in the lineup he averages .4 points per game and his plus/minus is a whopping 35 points lower than in wins. 
Statistics about wins and losses can also be deceiving, nevertheless here is one that might give some perspective to the importance of Dubinsky to the outcome of Rangers games this year.  The team is 20-9-2 in the 31 games he has scored at least one point (11-1 with two points) and 10-17-2 in the 29 games in which he has been held scoreless. They were also 3-2 in the 5 games he missed with the injury to his leg.
The Rangers possess a team with a lot of very nice pieces that are good players at the NHL level.  The team offensively only possesses on real game-breaker in Marian Gaborik and one other guy who is legitimately first line capable, at his best, at this stage of his career and that is Dubinsky.  Brandon clearly is not the type of natural goal scorer that Gaborik is, but he also has the ability to impact that game in many different areas and right now he simply is not doing it.  The games or even the shifts in which Dubinsky imposes his will on the opponent are becoming fewer and fewer and it leaving the Rangers in a constant search for some form of offense.  Instead we have a version of that takes more bad penalties than does positive things to help the team win, and when the rest of the offense is struggling this badly we need the other Dubinsky to arrive.
There have been no reports that say he came back too soon from the injury, even if I believe that he did, so it is tough to use that as an excuse.  There are no reports that say he is tired from the added workload early in the season.  It is tough to pinpoint what the exact cause for the drop not just in his statistical production, but his impact on the game lately.  What is certain though is that someone better figure it out quickly because as well as Boyle and Stepan have played over the course of the year, this offense, this team needs a focused and determined Brandon Dubinsky to help carry the load of this offense down the stretch.
He needs to get back to imposing his will on the opponent, to believing he can be a dominant force that can carry this team and assume the leadership in that role as he did earlier in the season.  Until he gets back to that place in his own mind the Rangers offense is still going to be looking for a spark every night.