Kings hope Gaborik can provide offensive spark
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- When Marian Gaborik got his first full day off in Los Angeles on Tuesday, he poked around what has become a playground for hockey players here. He took in sunny Manhattan Beach, where many of his Los Angeles Kings teammates live.
"It's beautiful around here," Gaborik said. "It's nice to get some vitamin D and just get ready for the game. I think it's pretty easy to get comfortable here."
Gaborik, though, won't have many more days off and the Kings have a small window to get their offense going with their new forward in order to improve their position for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Los Angeles got a reminder Thursday that they are not immune to being on the wrong end of a 3-2 score, and the disappointing season of captain Dustin Brown forced coach Darryl Sutter to bench him in the third period of a loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Gaborik was credited with his first goal as a King when a Drew Doughty rebound went in off his skate. He also had an assist and a team-high six shots on goal; the line of Gaborik, Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams combined for 15 of the Kings' 41 shots.
"He played really well for us," Sutter said of Gaborik.
Sutter hasn't sounded overly enthused about Gaborik, who was acquired at the NHL Trade Deadline but doesn't seem to be Sutter's type of two-way player. But that can change if Gaborik can deliver anything close to the 40-goal capability he showcased earlier in his career and boost the Kings' 5-on-5 scoring, which entered the weekend 28th in the League.
Even when he's not scoring Gaborik forces opposing teams to account for him, which frees other players.
"I can definitely notice they're careful of his speed," Kopitar said. "In that regard, maybe their right [defenseman] is backing off a little bit and giving us a couple of extra feet, which is always nice on the ice. He's making the little plays in the offensive zone that turn into pretty scoring chances. I think everybody was expecting him to do that too. He's certainly brought that to the table, but I think there's still more to be done with our line."
Gaborik's arrival seems similar to when Jeff Carter joined the Kings in February of 2012 to help their scoring, but whose effect wasn't felt until later. Sutter said Gaborik allows him to spread out the lines and put Carter back with Mike Richards. Brown has long been relegated to the third line.
Gaborik said Kopitar doesn't get the credit he should as a Selke Trophy candidate. He is taken aback by Kopitar's speed.
"That's one thing I noticed," Gaborik said. "He can skate."
Gaborik, whose season was set back by a broken collarbone, is used to being on a defensive-minded team; he began his career playing for Jacques Lemaire and the Minnesota Wild. He's also used to fitting into new teams, having done so with the Columbus Blue Jackets and the New York Rangers.
"It's a matter of understanding each other out there more and more, but I think it's going the right way," he said. "[I'm] adjusting, but I think it's going in the right direction. We've created some chances. It's going to get better and better. We have to get used to playing [with] each other and used to getting used to the system. I think it's going the right way."
The Kings averaged more than three goals per game during a recent eight-game winning streak, and much of that is explained by special teams, including a 5-for-21 stretch on the power play. More important, they stayed out of the penalty box. Los Angeles entered the weekend 28th in the NHL in total times shorthanded, but it had to kill three or fewer penalties in five of the eight games.
Sutter cited a let-up in the schedule after his team played 21 games in 40 days, including three back-to-backs, between Christmas and the 2014 Sochi Olympics. He said they came back from the break refreshed and his players agreed it's good for the final run.
"The break gave us an opportunity to get away from everything and relax a bit and get the body ready for the home stretch," Richards said. "It also gave us an opportunity to practice and work on some things and correct some things that we weren't doing so well. You can tell in our game how much more energy we have and how well we're playing right now."
Whether Gaborik, who can become an unrestricted free agent in July, is around beyond this season is unclear. General manager Dean Lombardi said Gaborik's agent told him Gaborik wants to stay with the Kings long term. Asked about his future, Gaborik said, "We'll see. We'll see what's going to happen."
The same can be said for the Kings' offense.
Author: Curtis Zupke | NHL.com Correspondent