It’s kind of obvious that the Rangers are better off with a guy like Marian Gaborik in the lineup. He’s an elite, if fragile, NHL player.
But that’s not the only reason the Rangers are better off with him.
Gaborik’s presence gives balance to their lines. With him in the lineup, coach John Tortorella is able to construct lines that make sense.
While Gaborik was out, the Rangers’ top line was the Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov, Ryan Callahan combo, a solid group, but one without a natural goal scorer. They work hard and score goals, but there’s a lack of consistency among the three forwards. None of them has great hands. None is a great finisher. They’re great cycling the puck around the net at close range, but give any of them a breakaway and he’s probably not going to convert the chance.
But as a secondary scoring line, that’s not as big a deal. So with Gaborik on a top line, the Dubinsky-Anisimov-Callahan line is suddenly under a lot less pressure (which they took advantage of in yesterday’s blowout of Edmonton — Dubinsky and Callahan didn’t have a point in that game).
Gaborik’s return also gives purpose to center Erik Christensen, who’s been bouncing around lines with no particular purpose with Gaborik out. Christensen is the Rangers’ only center who has a rapport with Gaborik. In fact, I would go so far as to say Christensen is the Owen Wilson to Gaborik’s Ben Stiller, a guy whose job opportunities aren’t necessarily based on talent, so much as chemistry.
With Gaborik back, Christensen suddenly has a role he can fill.
Gaborik’s return also gives purpose to the enigmatic Alexander Frolov, who had two goals against the reeling Oilers.
Frolov will never be a consistent NHL player. He might not even ever score 30 goals in the NHL again. At least not in a single season. But he’s out of the way on the Gaborik line, which I suspect is good enough for Tortorella.
Finally, the return of Gaborik gives the Rangers an interesting fourth line featuring the enforcer Derek Boogaard, the rookie Derek Stepan, and the pest Sean Avery. Avery has spent this season watching his offensive role diminish, but a fourth line situation, which he had most of his pre-Ranger career, could be just the thing to keep him effective — minimal minutes, a defined role, and the opportunity to score, should is present itself, which it just might with Stepan.
So, with Gaborik’s return, the Rangers just don’t get the goals that come with Gaborik. They also get lines that begin to make sense.
Of course, with lines like this, that are so logical, you have to wonder where Chris Drury will slot in when he returns to the lineup. Stepan could go down to the AHL and Brian Boyle could move from the third line down to the fourth, but right now, Boyle is way too hot to be playing fourth-line minutes.
All of the Rangers’ pieces finally seem to fit together and Drury is now an extra piece. It’ll be interesting to see if Tortorella is able to carve out a place for Drury without disrupting a solid, if unspectacular, lineup.