Gaborik still trying to fit in with Kings

Monday, 03.24.2014 / 11:50 PM
Dan Rosen  - NHL.com Senior Writer

PHILADELPHIA -- Darryl Sutter shrugs his shoulders and shakes his head when he's asked about the impact Marian Gaborik could have on the Los Angeles Kings in the Stanley Cup Playoffs next month and possibly beyond.

It's possible he's playing coy, but Sutter, the Kings coach, repeatedly said after Los Angeles' 3-2 win Monday against the Philadelphia Flyers that he really doesn't know what to expect from Gaborik because he doesn't know him well enough yet.

"We just got him, and it's not easy for a player at the deadline to come in, it's not easy to come to a good team," Sutter said. "It's got nothing to do with the player. Quite honestly, I couldn't tell you. I really don't know."

Sutter, though, has thought enough of Gaborik's game so far to keep him on the same line with Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams since the Kings acquired the three-time 40-goal scorer from the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for Matt Frattin and two draft picks shortly before the NHL Trade Deadline on March 5. They likely will be together again Tuesday, when the Kings play at Verizon Center against the Washington Capitals.

L.A.'s new top line produced a goal Monday, it's second in the past three games at even strength. Gaborik, Kopitar and Williams have combined for seven goals and eight assists in the past nine games.

Kopitar is the glue, the top-end center that makes the line go. Williams chips in as a skilled puck retriever, passer, and scorer. Gaborik adds an element of explosiveness that the Kings didn't previously have on that line when it featured Dustin Brown.

Williams called Gaborik's first three strides "among the best in the League, and they have been for 10 years." He said there are times when he thinks he shouldn't try to get the puck to Gaborik because of the way he's being defended, only to realize that he should give it to him anyway because Gaborik has the ability to beat his man with that explosive stride.

"A little bit more talk is going to help out there, but we're working it and I'm hopeful it will be something pretty to watch for a long time," Williams said. "[Gaborik] is a great guy and he's fit in perfectly with our group so far. I don't see any reason why it shouldn't work out."

Williams, though, joined Sutter in being hesitant and avoiding bold proclamations about what could happen with Gaborik and the Kings. He called the line "a work in progress," because of the rather monumental adjustment Gaborik is attempting to make in L.A.

"Gabby is used to playing one way," Williams said.

The Kings don't play that way.

Los Angeles plays a battling puck-possession game. It's a style that obviously works come playoff time, as evidenced by the Kings' six series wins and one Stanley Cup since Sutter took over midway through the 2011-12 season.

But it's a challenging style for any player to start trying to adopt at this time of the year, especially someone like Gaborik, who is used to being a game-breaker and hasn't typically been asked to play such a hard game with as much regularity as he has to with the Kings.

"The puck battles, the hard stick battles, those are the types of things," Brown said. "It's not that he can't do them, but it's a matter of getting used to doing them all the time because that's what we're about."

Gaborik wants to work his way into the Kings' culture because he knows he has a chance to win a championship this season if he can do it. He said the Kings' system is similar to what he played for years with the Minnesota Wild under Jacques Lemaire.

"Everybody is on board, everybody trusts each other and everybody knows what we're doing out there," Gaborik said. "Everybody is working as one machine, and that's what we need."

However, Gaborik knew in Minnesota that he couldn't be a one-dimensional player and play for Lemaire. It's the same situation in L.A. with Sutter.

The Kings, though, have to be leery of reining Gaborik in too much and making him sacrifice his explosiveness, because that would be taking away what he does best.

"It's getting him implemented into the system, which takes some time," Brown said. "He's a high-skill guy, something we don't have a lot of in terms of speed and a kind of game-breaking player. You see glimpses of it, but a lot of our o-zone is really grinding, hard on the puck. Kopitar and Justin are better players at that. It meshes well because he's more of a get-open-and shoot guy, and we're starting to see glimpses of it."

Should those glimpses turn into regular showings, Brown thinks the Kings will have forward depth that matches up with any team they'd see in the playoffs. He likened it to when L.A. acquired Mike Richards from the Flyers in the summer of 2011.

Richards bumped Jarret Stoll down to his more natural spot as the third-line center, giving the Kings enviable depth down the middle, which they used to win the Stanley Cup.

For the time being, Gaborik has bumped Brown to the third line with Stoll and Dwight King -- and Brown thinks it can be one of the most effective third lines in the League.

"At the end of the day, depth is what wins," Brown said. "It's a big part of what the playoffs are all about, so when you add a top-end player you can have mismatches further down the lineup. That's why we got [Gaborik]. If you're going to get a top-end guy, you might as well go right to the top. He's one of those guys."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter: @drosennhl

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