The Los Angeles Kings are a smothering, stingy defensive team that has made a habit of winning low-scoring games under coach Darryl Sutter, and have turned that habit into post-season success.
No matter how defensively sound the Kings have been, though, they’re eventually going to need to score a few goals. One of their go-to guys in that regard over the past two and a half seasons has been Marian Gaborik, but as the playoffs approach, there are increasing concerns that the 34-year-old winger might not be able to get healthy by the time the first round opens in mid-April.
According to Sutter, Gaborik has skated on his own, but he still isn’t practicing with the Kings and it doesn’t sound as if Sutter is banking on Gaborik being back come playoff time.
"There's no way a player, unless he can play regular-season games, I have no interest playing him in the playoffs," Sutter told the Los Angeles Times’ Lisa Dillman. "None. We did that before. If you look back … it's very difficult to put players in. As you go into March there's another whole level of play. There's a whole next part too [after that].”
Gaborik has been sidelined since mid-February after suffering a knee injury during a game against the New York Rangers. He was backchecking when he collided with Rangers center Dominic Moore, and Gaborik was forced to leave the game. He hasn’t played since.
Even if this has been one of the worst offensive seasons of Gaborik’s career — he has 12 goals in 54 games — he still possesses game-breaking scoring ability and he has put it on display for the Kings in the post-season before.
In 2013-14, when he was brought over by Los Angeles at the trade deadline, Gaborik notched five goals in 19 regular season games before going on a tear during the post-season. In 26 games, Gaborik scored 14 times and he helped the Kings to their second Stanley Cup in three seasons. In his career, he has 32 goals and 57 points in the post-season. And while he may not be a driving force in terms of possession on a Kings team that has outstanding underlying numbers, but Gaborik is still a key cog in Los Angeles’ possession game.
Without Gaborik skating, though, it’s hard to even know what a potential timeline for his return would be. The Kings have six games remaining in their season and if Gaborik isn’t playing by Game 82, and that appears it will be the case, Sutter’s comments indicate Gaborik won’t be suiting up to start the playoffs. Without a deep run, which will be tough in the strong Pacific Division, Gaborik may not return at all this season.