UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- New York Rangers coach John Tortorella has had his ups and downs with high-scoring forward Marian Gaborik during their two-plus seasons together. As the Rangers head into tonight's visit to the Nassau Coliseum, they're definitely on the ups.
Not only is Gaborik leading the Rangers with 9 goals and 15 points, he has, in Tortorella's eyes, been the Rangers' most consistent player through the first six weeks of the season -- a stretch that includes New York's current six-game winning streak.
Scoring never has been a problem for Gaborik, a two-time 42-goal scorer – including 2009-10, his first season with the Rangers. It's been the other areas of the game that Tortorella says have seen the most improvement.
"Where I think he's made tremendous improvement is his play away from the puck -- the back pressure, being in the right position when he doesn't have the puck," Tortorella said after the morning skate at the Coliseum. "I think he's finding out that when we play better team defense, we have the puck more."
Gaborik took a lot of heat from Tortorella last season, when he slumped from 42 goals to 22. Now, he's on pace to surpass his career high in goals this season -- and his plus-8 rating is second on the team and tops among forwards.
"He's a proud man. He's a good man, and he did not like how it worked out last year," Tortorella said. "You could sense that he was going to have a really good year. He's certainly off to a very good start."
Tortorella said most of the coaching he and his staff do is team-oriented, rather than working with individual players, and gave Gaborik the credit for his improved play.
"It comes down to the player's willingness to do it and realizing it does work, as far as playing good defense to help out your offense," he said of Gaborik's improvement without the puck.
"He's a smart guy. Ever since I met him, and that was three years ago, he's asked questions. You can tell that he's engaged. I think there's a motivation there with Gabby, where he wants to help his team get to the next level. He knows he has the ability; it's just a matter of consistently doing it."