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Northwest: Gaborik is learning to play through pain

by Roger Phillips / NHL.com

In his third season, Marian Gaborik, played all but one game and produced 65 points on 30 goals and 35 assists.
The stereotypical hockey player skates in front of the net, takes a puck to the face, leaves to receive 30 stitches, is back on the ice one minute later, and immediately scores the game-winning goal.

Of course that’s an exaggeration, but it is against that backdrop that the Minnesota Wild’s star right wing, Marian Gaborik, continues his battle against lower abdominal injuries that have sidelined him for lengthy stretches over the years.

Gaborik, 25, is in his seventh NHL season. In his third season, he played all but one game and produced 65 points on 30 goals and 35 assists. His presence in the lineup always has been vital to the success of the Wild.

But in 2003-04 and again in 2005-06 (there was no 2004-05), Gaborik was sidelined for 17 games. Last year, he missed 34 games. And this season, he has missed five games in the early going. The Wild is 10-3-2 with Gaborik in the lineup this season, 1-4 without him.

And lately, there have been whispers that perhaps Gaborik needs to be more willing to play when he’s not 100-percent healthy.

To this suggestion, Gaborik responded recently to the St. Paul Pioneer Press; “In my case, if I wanted that, I would probably be out for a long time," meaning that he does indeed regularly play when he’s not completely healthy.

Meanwhile, Wild General Manager Doug Risebrough suggested younger players such as Gaborik must learn how to manage their injuries and need to learn that they can find ways to contribute to their team even if they aren’t at full strength.

"He's got a lot of assets as a player, it’s not just his skating,” Risebrough told the newspaper. “So you learn to manage, when your legs don't necessarily feel as good, that you can still shoot a puck. You can still play good positionally. This is all something he’s feeling his way through."

Gaborik gave an example of a recent instance when he did play through the groin strain that has slowed him recently. Despite considering sitting out, he played in a game at Edmonton and nearly scored the winning goal in overtime. The problem is, he then missed five of the next seven games, so his decision to play in the Edmonton game might have been counterproductive.

“You want to battle through it, and I did,” Gaborik told the Pioneer Press. “But maybe I should have just gotten off; maybe that would have been better. Who knows now?”

The best news for the Wild is Gaborik says his injury this season is different, and not as severe, as the one that sidelined him for an extended stretch last season. And clearly, the Wild need that to be the case. They are tough to beat with him in the lineup. They are ordinary without him.

Who’s hot -- The Canucks are 8-0-2 against the Northwest Division, 2-8 against the rest of the League. Roberto Luongo stopped 29 of 30 shots in a 4-1 defeat of the Flames that produced the Canucks’ eighth division win. Luongo is 5-0-2 in his last seven appearances, the only blemishes two shootout losses to the Oilers. Before Tuesday’s 5-4 shootout loss to the Oilers, he had allowed only nine goals during the previous six games, stopping 157 of 166 shots on goal for a .946 save percentage. … When Wild defenseman Martin Skoula scored last week in a victory over the Oilers, it was his first goal in 113 games. … Jarret Stoll scored both Oilers goals in the loss to Minnesota, only his second and third goals of the season. … The Canucks routed Minnesota, 6-2, with Mattias Ohlund, Brendan Morrison and Henrik Sedin producing two points apiece. … Owen Nolan was one of four Flames with two points in a 3-1 victory over Edmonton. The defense put a blanket over goalie Miikka Kiprusoff, who faced only 16 shots, stopping 15 of them. … Nolan scored two more goals in a 4-1 win over Colorado on Tuesday. After failing to score in the season’s first 15 games, he has four goals in the last six games. … Right wing Matt Foy was one of four Wild players to score in a 4-1 rout of Colorado. Foy’s goal was only the third of his career. His other two came on Oct. 12, 2005, in a 6-0 rout of the Canucks. Josh Harding stopped 27 of 28 shots in the defeat of the Avalanche.

Shootout summary -- The Oilers continue to live by the shootout, which has been the source of five of their first seven wins this season. The latest shootout wins came against the Canucks. The first settled a 65-minute scoreless tie; the second, on Tuesday, gave the Oilers a 5-4 win over the Canucks.

Garon

In the 1-0 shootout win, it looked like no one would ever score in the shootout, either. Oilers goalie Mathieu Garon stopped the Canucks’ Byron Ritchie and Brendan Morrison, and Ryan Kesler lost control of the puck before he could shoot.

Meanwhile, the Oilers’ Sam Gagner was foiled by Roberto Luongo, and Raffi Torres fired the puck wide. Finally, Ales Hemsky skated in on Luongo, made several nifty stickhandling moves, and lifted a backhander over Luongo, who flopped onto his back in exhaustion and disgust as the Oilers mobbed Hemsky. Garon stopped 29 shots during regulation and overtime. The Oilers couldn’t get any of their 19 shots past Luongo.

In a high-scoring game Tuesday, the Oilers prevailed 5-4 in the shootout, with the shootout going five rounds. Luongo and Garon both stopped three of the first four shots they faced. The successful shooters in the first four rounds were Trevor Linden for the Canucks and Hemsky for the Oilers.

In the fifth round, Garon stopped Brad Isbister. Shawn Horcoff then won the game for the Oilers, beating Luongo with a wrist shot.

Phaneuf

Rumor mill -- The impending restricted free-agent status of young star defenseman Dion Phaneuf remains hot news in Calgary. Once it might not have been, but that was before Edmonton swiped Dustin Penner from Anaheim over the summer and showed that it is possible in the salary-cap age to make an offer to a restricted free agent that is not matched by the player’s old team. The Flames don’t want that to happen with Phaneuf next summer. There were some recent reports that Phaneuf’s camp had rejected a Calgary offer. But his agent, Don Meehan, told the Calgary Sun, “We have never discussed a number.” Meehan did tell the paper he has had preliminary talks with Flames GM Darryl Sutter regarding Phaneuf. Meehan also represents prospective unrestricted free agent Kristian Huselius, but said he has not spoken with Sutter regarding the talented forward. … Both Twin Cities papers reported that Wild GM Doug Risebrough continues to give veteran forward Wes Walz the time and space to decide whether he wants to continue his career. Walz is on an indefinite leave of absence. … TSN reported the possibility of a deal that would send Flyers forward Jeff Carter to Vancouver for Ryan Kesler. The GMs from both teams have denied the rumor. … Citing only unnamed sources, the Ottawa Sun reported that Flames GM Darryl Sutter has spoken to Sharks GM Doug Wilson about center Patrick Marleau. Sutter, of course, formerly was the Sharks’ coach. But Marleau recently signed an extension through 2009-10 that includes a “no-movement clause.” The no-movement clause kicks in next season. The Sharks have denied the Marleau rumor. The Ottawa Sun also suggested the Flames would have big interest if the Panthers were to decide to trade Olli Jokinen.

The week ahead -- The Avalanche wraps up a stretch of 10 out of 11 games against the Northwest Division. They visit the Oilers Thursday, then host the Flames Saturday and again play the Oilers at home Wednesday.

Along with the two games against Colorado, the Oilers host the Blackhawks Saturday and the Blue Jackets Monday.

The Wild have a fairly light week, hosting a matinee against Columbus Friday, visiting Nashville Saturday, then idling until a home game Wednesday against the Coyotes.

The Canucks also play only three times, visiting St. Louis Friday, then hosting the Blackhawks Sunday and the Ducks Tuesday.

After their Thursday home game against the Blackhawks, the Flames hit the road for three, including a tough back-to-back over the weekend at Colorado and St. Louis. The trip ends Tuesday in Detroit.

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