Gaborik returns to the elite ranks as League leading scorer
By Alexander Monaghan
After yet another injury-plagued season, in which Gaborik only scored 22 goals in 62 games, the Slovakian winger is back on track and helping the New York Rangers to what could be their best season since the 1993-1994 season — otherwise known as the only Stanley Cup the team has won since World War II ended. In fact, Gaborik has already matched last seasons’s goal totals with 22 through his first 34 games.
More importantly, he has stayed on the ice. And with the acquisition of Brad Richards and the ever-improving play of captain Ryan Callahan, Gaborik can settle into a groove without the pressure of carrying his squad. At 29, Gaborik is arguably the third-most important player on the team after the aforementioned Callahan and Richards. One would argue being a piece in the puzzle opposed to the centerpiece has worked out quite well for Gaborik and the Rangers.
Four of Gaborik’s 22 goals have been game winners but many more of his goals have been momentum swings in the team’s favor. Currently on a five-game scoring streak where he potted seven goals over those contests, Gaborik scored both goals to put the Rangers in a 2-2 deadlock against the Coyotes on the 17th. He then followed those two goals with two goals and an assist to give the Rangers a 4-1 victory over the rival New Jersey Devils. His goal against another rival, the New York Islanders, put his team up 2-1 in their eventual 4-2 win. He followed up that performance by scoring the game winner against the Philadelphia Flyers the following night then finished off the Islanders again this past Monday with an empty net goal.
For the sake of brevity, we will cap the descriptions of his goals at five but it should put in perspective just how important Gabby’s tallies have been. Not only have they been critical to the team’s success, they have swung the momentum during numerous games. Perhaps even more important has been his consistency throughout the season as his longest pointless drought is three games; his longest goal drought is four games. Comparing that to last season’s injury riddled performance is comparing apples and oranges since he capped off the 2010-2011 regular season on a nine-game drought which extended into the Game 4 of the playoffs.
His success once again goes hand-in-hand with his health which makes sense for any injury-prone skater. The last two seasons where he played at least 76 games, he scored 40 goals. Keeping the right winger on the ice has certainly been a top priority of coach John Tortorella and company which explains why he is the only forward to receive a maintenance day this week.
But fear not, Ranger fans, as the team will attempt to keep Gaborik on the ice for all 82 games for the first time in his career. Tortorella is currently starting him in the offensive zone 58.3 percent of the time which is second to only his pivot Derek Stepan. That strategy has limited him lugging the puck up ice and therefore kept his legs fresher. Keeping those legs fresh coupled with an excellent medical staff and reduced minutes should be a recipe for success.
Is the Rocket Richard Trophy in his sights? Will he score 50 goals for the first time in his career? As usual, it all depends on whether he can stay healthy or not.