Alex Rodriguez isn't New York's only clutch home run hitter lately. The Rangers have the fabulous Marian Gaborik, who skates at Mach 4 and releases his wrist shot as quickly as anyone since Joe Sakic in his prime. Gaborik had eight goals in the Rangers' first 11 games—six in the third period. One was a game-winner, one tied the score and another extended a one-goal lead.
How's that for Mr. October? Of all the skaters who joined new teams for 2009--10, none has had more impact than Gaborik (15 points total), a right wing who has gamboled (responsibly) for coach John Tortorella after chafing in Minnesota's button-down system for eight years under Jacques Lemaire. "You can grind out goals, but over the course of an 82-game schedule you're not going to be successful unless you have a guy who can do things offensively that no one can teach," says Tortorella. "What I love about Gabby is he's cerebral. He asks questions. You don't always see that from the creative guys, who just want to do their thing."
Like all home run hitters, Gaborik can be a one-man rally. Although the Rangers were being outplayed by Los Angeles on Oct. 14, they were clinging to a 3--2 third-period lead when, on a harmless-looking rush, Gaborik took a pass from linemate Vinny Prospal and whistled a 27-foot shot past Kings goalie Erik Ersberg; it would be the Rangers' only shot of the period. "That's Gaborik," Phoenix G.M. Don Maloney says. "L.A. is hanging around, but one shot and he turns the momentum. Game over."
The one thing that has consistently stopped Gaborik in recent years has been his body. Before signing with New York he had played in just 207 of 328 games postlockout, including only 17 last season, because of groin and hip problems. (He averaged 1.1 points per game when healthy, including a five-goal outburst against the Rangers in a December 2007 game.) Gaborik has had multiple hip surgeries, performed by Marc Philippon—yes, the same doctor who operated on A-Rod—and his injury history might have engendered the ready-made label of "soft" in the unflinching NHL. But, says the Blues' Paul Kariya, who also had a hip procedure and who rehabbed with Gaborik last winter, "He's the opposite of soft. He's a big-time competitor."
At week's end New York was second in the league with 3.73 goals per game, almost a goal and a half better than at the end of last season, when it ranked 28th. The presence of Gaborik "brings other people out of their shell" offensively, says Tortorella, and challenges them to try new things. While Gaborik still occasionally turns over the puck while trying to create offense, the Rangers can live with it. "When you have a player who sees the game in ways that you and I never will," Tortorella says, "a coach has to be careful not to get in the way."
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