EL SEGUNDO, Calif. – Marian Gaborik’s new teammates with the Los Angeles Kings initially wondered whether such a talented goal-scorer could fit into a defence-dominated team when he arrived in a trade last month.
Nobody is wondering anymore after Gaborik helped the Kings reach the post-season on a roll.
“It took me a little bit, but I think I adjusted pretty good,” Gaborik said Tuesday while the Kings prepared for their first-round opener against San Jose.
Gaborik scored 16 points in 19 games as the Kings’ top-line left wing down the stretch, adapting his game to coach Darryl Sutter’s preferences while still providing his own unique offensive talents to the NHL’s best defensive team. He fits in well in his third dressing room in two seasons, with teammates praising the veteran’s commitment and talent with equal enthusiasm.
“I think he’s been our best player since he’s got here,” defenceman Drew Doughty said.
“No matter who gets traded here, you wonder how they’re going to fit into the system,” Doughty added. “(But) he played in Minnesota. He knew how to play that system back in the day. He’s obviously amazing offensively, but he is good defensively. He tries his best, and that’s all you can ask.”
Although Los Angeles has reached back-to-back conference finals, offence is seemingly always a concern. The Kings are the lowest-scoring team in the NHL post-season with just 198 regular-season goals, but Gaborik’s arrival has assuaged many fears about their ability to score enough goals to win in the spring.
Gaborik’s impressive speed immediately changed opponents’ defensive game plans after his arrival from Columbus. He finally became the goal-scoring left wing that the Kings have long lacked to play alongside Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles’ sublime playmaker and two-way centre. Justin Williams plays the right side on a suddenly potent top line, and Gaborik’s arrival allowed the Kings to balance out their depth lines as well.
Gaborik has five goals with his famously vicious wrist shot, but he has been even more valuable with 11 assists. He put together a three-point game in the Kings’ road finale in Edmonton last Thursday.
Gaborik sees nothing special in his handling of what could have been a rough assignment in Los Angeles. Playing for Sutter didn’t scare Gaborik after his experience under coaches with similar defensive demands such as Jacques Lemaire in Minnesota and John Tortorella with the Rangers.
“Just go out there, work hard and follow the system,” Gaborik said. “Make sure you’re on the right side of the puck, and be in the right position when you’re skating. Be on top of things.”
Gaborik’s arrival and Los Angeles’ ensuing excellence have echoed the Kings’ success two years ago after they acquired Jeff Carter from Columbus during a disappointing regular season. Carter added his goal-scoring skills to a low-scoring lineup, and the Kings’ goals-per-game average rose—just as it did this season after Gaborik pulled on a black jersey.
Doughty initially thought Gaborik was “more of just a scorer,” but quickly realized there was much more to his new teammate.
“He’s kind of a guy like Carts, where Carts just seems to put pucks in the net,” Doughty said. “You don’t understand how it goes in. It just goes in. He’ll obviously get the pretty ones, too, but I thought he was just a pure goal-scorer. Just sat in the slot and found pucks and put them in. But he’s a great passer, too, and he’s good at finding open ice. He’s good at getting support for his linemates and getting them out of a battle and then making a play to create an opportunity.”
While still near the prime of his career, the 32-year-old Gaborik is an impending free agent with a history of injury woes, so he realizes the urgency of every remaining chance at a Stanley Cup title. He has reached two conference finals in his NHL career, but never played for the Cup.
“You get that feeling that you’re getting close, but it’s really hard,” Gaborik said. “I’m really going to embrace this opportunity and take it, and I’m very excited for that. It doesn’t come every year, and we feel we have a good team to do it.”