After a weekend away in Vegas (for my daughter’s showcase softball tournament, not just for fun) and a brief hiatus from the blogosphere, I am ready to return. I can’t think of a better way to return than to do so the day after Gaborik’s triumphant return. Gabby scored the only goal in a 1 – 0 home win against the Boston Bruins in a Sunday afternoon matinee at MSG.
Gaborik had missed the previous 2 games after banging knees with former Ranger Petr Prucha in the Pheonix game. The Rangers lost both contests and in doing so showed why Gaborik is a big key to the Rangers season. With him out of the lineup, the Ranger scored just 3 goals combined while playing two of the NHL’s bottom feeders; the Islanders and the Wild.
Now granted it isn’t as if the Rangers put on an incredible offensive display in Gaborik’s return but his presence in the lineup is crucial to the Rangers’ on-ice success regardless. He is a game-breaker that requires the opponent to account for him whenever he is on the ice. That extra attention can open up the ice for other Rangers. It’s no coincidence that Vinny Prospal is tied for third in assists (14) and tied for 8th in overall scoring (18 points) in the NHL (ironically, he is tied with the Capitals Niklas Backstrom in both categories).
The Rangers are clearly a different and more dangerous team with Gaborik in the lineup. He has had a hand in 38% of the Rangers goals (19 of 50). Without him, there is no one in the Rangers lineup that can pick up the scoring slack. Gaborik literally carries this team offensively.
The one area of the ice that the Rangers don’t need to rely on the efforts of Gaborik is in goal where the Rangers have the King. Lundqvist recorded his first shutout of the season stopping 29 shots in the win. The Rangers, despite an increased focus on offense (where they are currently 7th in goals scored per game, 3.33), are 8th in the league in goals against per game (2.60). Naturally Lundqvist has been the primary reason for the solid defensive standing as he has appeared in all but 2 contests and his .920 save % ranks 4th in the NHL among goalies with 10 or more appearances.
Coming into the season, everyone knew that the two biggest keys to the Rangers season were Gaborik and Lundqvist. If either player suffered a long term injury or underperformed, then the Rangers would likely miss the playoffs. If both can remain in the lineup and stay productive then the team should qualify for the playoffs and have a shot at making some noise while there.