The Rangers front office entered this summer with one goal. No, it was not to alienate and embarrass Sean Avery, but to land the top free agent center available in Brad Richards. They wanted Richards because of his familiarity with Tortorella’s system, his ability to run the power play, but most importantly the expectation that he would be the top line pivot that would complement Marian Gaborik. The Slovakian sniper’s goal total dropped from 42 to 22, from his first to second season in New York. It was clear that Gaborik was struggling and it was assumed by everybody that he needed an elite veteran center like Richards to get him back on track.
But it is clear now that the problem with Gaborik last season had very little to do with who his linemates were, but more to do with his health and mindset. Playing in Minnesota throughout the early part of his career, Gaborik never played with elite centers, but always posted top caliber numbers. In his first season as a Ranger, Gaborik played predominantly with Erik Christensen and still managed to put up 86 points. If you have learned anything from this blog, it would be that our old buddy Christensen is the furthest thing from “elite”.
Almost halfway through the season, Gaborik has already surpassed last season’s total with 23 goals. The biggest difference though is that Gaborik has that extra jump in his step. He has never been the type of sniper who is stationary and needs to be fed the puck. Gaborik can create space with his speed and explosiveness, which is what he lacked last season. Whether it was the separated shoulder he suffered in the home opener or his ailing groin, Gaborik clearly lacked the extra jump that he has regained this season. The winger is healthy again and is visible whenever he is on the ice. His confidence is clearly back too, not only on the ice but off it as well. He tweeted at Pam Anderson last week asking her when she’ll be back in NYC. Now THAT’S confidence!
Gaborik’s play has been integral part of the Rangers offense this season. His chemistry with youngsters Derek Stepan and Artem Anisimov has allowed Richards to play on the other scoring line, providing balance and two lines that are consistent threats. John Tortorella has challenged Gaborik to play better and he has certainly answered the call. Do you remember the game vs. Buffalo in 24/7 when Torts angrily cursed out Gaborik on the bench yelling, “Are you gonna stop on a f*cking puck tonight?!” Well, I do and I still haven’t figured out what that quote means, but Gaborik scored later in that game so apparently he received the message. Let’s hope that he can continue to stay healthy and keep scoring big goals, because the Rangers success depends on him.