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Gaborik struggling to find his form

by Dave Lozo

Marian Gaborik has had a disappointing nine games during the Stanley Cup Playoffs. After a 41-goal, 76-point regular season, the 30-year-old sniper has been virtually invisible during the postseason.

Gaborik scored a goal during Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the Ottawa Senators, and hasn't had one since. He registered an assist in Game 2 of the conference semifinals against the Washington Capitals, his only other point at 5-on-5 in the postseason.

During the regular season, Gaborik had 276 shots in 82 games, an average of 3.37 per game. In the postseason, though, he's only put 16 shots on net, an average of 1.78 per game.

There are many theories as to why Gaborik hasn't come through offensively in the playoffs, but it seems to be the result of fewer scoring chances, a change in the top line that had been together for nearly a month before the playoffs and fewer appearances by Gaborik in high-traffic areas.

Here's a breakdown of his nine postseason games and a look at what has gone wrong:

Game 1 vs. Ottawa, April 12

Marian Gaborik
Marian Gaborik
Right Wing - NYR
GOALS: 1 | ASST: 4 | PTS: 5
SOG: 16 | +/-: -1
His first game arguably was his best game. He scored to make it 2-0 late in the second period after linemate Carl Hagelin forced a turnover with a ferocious forecheck. Gaborik had three of his four shots at even strength, only had one attempt blocked and didn't miss the net. This would mark the only time Gaborik has had more than two shots on goal in a game in the playoffs.

Game 2 vs. Ottawa, April 14

In 20:14 of ice time, Gaborik didn't put a single shot on net. He has remarked several times during the playoffs that it's much harder to find space than it is in the regular season, and he couldn't find enough of it here to force Senators goalie Craig Anderson to make a save. He had just two shot attempts, both of which missed the net. To make matters worse, he was on the ice for Nick Foligno's game-tying goal late in the third period and the Senators went on to win in overtime.

Game 3 at Ottawa, April 16

This marked the first of three games in which Hagelin did not play due to suspension, forcing coach John Tortorella to shake up the top line. Gaborik had just one shot in 17:36 of ice time and two other attempts that never found the net. There's something to be said for the lost chemistry with Gaborik and Brad Richards working with Chris Kreider in the rookie's first NHL game instead of Hagelin, but one shot over two games is tough to accept from a player who has 40-plus goals in two of the past three seasons.

Game 4 at Ottawa, April 18

Gaborik hasn't made his presence felt at even strength during the playoffs, but he assisted on a pair of first-period power-play goals. He had the secondary assist on Anton Stralman's goal and swept the puck across to Ryan Callahan to pick up the primary assist on the Rangers captain's goal. Gaborik made a much more concerted effort to get pucks on net, but he only had two shots while having one attempt blocked and two more miss the net. The Rangers let that two-goal lead dissipate en route to an overtime loss.

Game 5 vs. Ottawa, April 21


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To be fair to Gaborik, no Ranger could find a way to get a puck past Anderson in a 2-0 loss. Gaborik finished minus-1, but that was because he was on the ice for Jason Spezza's empty-net goal in the final minute. Gaborik was engaged physically, not exactly something for which he's known, and finished with two hits. Once again, he had just two shots on goal, and missed the net three times. He said before the game that he wanted to get to the net more, something he did a lot during the regular season, but he consistently had most of his chances from the outside during the series.

"It's very tight," Gaborik said. "It's going to come down to battles and whoever puts more pucks on the net and tries to find those rebounds and gets some ugly goals."

Game 6 at Ottawa, April 23

Gaborik didn't pick up a point in the season-saving victory, but he was on the ice for two power-play goals that erased a one-goal deficit during the second period. This also was Hagelin's first game back from his three-game suspension, but very little changed for Gaborik, who totaled two shots on goal, had one blocked and missed the net on his two other attempts. It appeared to be a carbon copy of any of his previous four games, but he seemed to feed off his series-high 26 shifts and 20:14 of ice time.

Game 7 vs. Ottawa, April 26

It looked like Gaborik was going to carry his Game 6 performance into Game 7 in the early going. He had a great chance on a 2-on-1 break in the game's first three minutes, but his one-timer from the right side was turned aside by Anderson. About five minutes later, Gaborik was alone in front of the net for a rebound attempt, but he shot the puck wide. He would attempt just one more shot over final two-plus periods, but Gaborik was as close to scoring as he had been since Game 1.

Game 1 vs. Washington, April 28

Despite this being his third straight game with Hagelin back on his line, Gaborik still was finding the going tough. Facing the Capitals and their shot-blocking, defensive-minded team doesn't help, but Gaborik had only one shot on net. He had the secondary assist, just his second five-on-five point of the playoffs, on Richards' third-period goal that put the Rangers up 3-1. For the most part, Gaborik wasn't a dangerous player in his 19:20 of ice time.

Game 2 vs. Washington, April 30


Gaborik made a brilliant pass to set up Richards for a 4-on-4 goal late in the first period to cut the Caps' lead to 2-1, but it was yet another two-shot game. Gaborik was on the ice for both Caps goals at even strength, but it's hard to fault him for either of them. The first goal was the result of a Stu Bickel turnover, the second the result of Henrik Lundqvist leaving his crease to play a puck that fell short of the trapezoid. Gaborik didn't pick up a point on the game-tying goal, but he was part of the power-play unit that moved the puck seamlessly around the Caps' zone for about 50 seconds before the goal.

That game marked the eighth consecutive one in which Gaborik had two shots or fewer. In the regular season it happened 24 times in 82 games, or about 60 percent less frequently than it has during the postseason.

Tortorella dropped Gaborik from the top line during Game 2 against Washington and replaced him with Kreider. When asked about the reasons behind it, Tortorella wouldn't delve into specifics, but said he thought Gaborik had one of his better games recently. It may have been his best performance since Game 1 against Ottawa.

"He was OK," Tortorella said. "Obviously, we need him to score some goals here. I'm not going to get into a long assessment publicly. It's something I'd rather just keep in the room right now. Again, he played better (Monday)."

When it comes to deciphering what it means to score from "in front of the net," there's no hard and fast way to assess the parameters of that area. But a case can be made that Gaborik scored 19 of his 41 goals this season from those so-called dirty areas, about six or seven more than he scored from that area when he had 42 goals two seasons ago.

Whether it's a lack of opportunity, ability or willingness to get to that area in the playoffs, Gaborik has had far fewer chances from the front of the net during the postseason. He showed the desire to get there during the regular season and reaffirmed it when things were going poorly during the Ottawa series.

As long as Gaborik is healthy and willing to pay the price, there's good reason to believe he's about to break through in this series.

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo

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