Free of superstar pressure, Gaborik excels with Los Angeles Kings

Josh Elliott
Marian Gaborik celebrates a goal for the LA Kings

Marian Gaborik has had to be ‘the guy’ for most of his career, but now that he’s been freed of those expectations in Los Angeles, his star has really begun to shine. And it shone bright Saturday in Game 1 of the Kings’ second round series against the Anaheim Ducks.

All three goals in the Kings’ 3-2 OT win were because of Gaborik. First, he set up Alec Martinez with a deft feed from below the Ducks goalline. Then, with 7 seconds left in the game and his team down 2-1, Gaborik batted a rebound out of the air and beat Jonas Hiller to send the game to overtime. Gaborik then capped off his amazing night with a tip-in goal off an Anze Kopitar shot to give the Kings the Game 1 victory.

The 32-year-old Gaborik isn’t the most important player on the Kings, but he certainly looked like it on Saturday. He brought offence to a team that has always struggled in that area, providing exactly what the Kings hoped they were getting when they acquired him at the 2014 trade deadline.

He’s not the most consistent or durable player, but Marian Gaborik has the skill to be one of the best – under the right circumstances.

Gaborik looks like he’s found those right circumstances in Los Angeles. Maybe that’s because, for the first time, he doesn’t have to be the team’s best player, and the franchise’s fortunes don’t ride on his fragile health. This team belongs to Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty and Jonathan Quick. And, to a less extent, it belongs to Jeff Carter and Mike Richards. Gaborik isn’t expected to win every game for the Kings, so when he steps up and works his magic, it’s an added bonus. If he disappears or gets injured, L.A. still has its core players to rely on.

And that seems to suit Gaborik just fine, because he’s never really worked as a core player on other teams. The oft-injured, highly-skilled winger was always an awkward fit in his early days with the defensive-minded, Jacques Lemaire-coached Minnesota Wild.

When he signed a big-ticket contract with the Rangers in 2009, he was again expected to bring some superstar flash to a blue-collar roster. And he did that some of the time (two 40-goal seasons is nothing to sniff at), but he also battled injuries and had an awful season last year.

That awful season got him traded to Columbus, where the Blue Jackets hoped he’d sell jerseys and be the new face of the franchise. But he again disappointed, scoring a total of 9 goals in 34 games during his time in Columbus, and battling injuries throughout. Columbus actually fared better with him out of the lineup, so they traded the Slovak and his expiring $7.5-million contract so they wouldn’t lose him for nothing in the summer.

Now, Los Angeles is Gaborik’s fourth city in the last two years, but it’s the first place he’s looked comfortable in that time.

In Los Angeles, he doesn’t have to be ‘the guy’ every night. But when he’s wants to – as he showed on Saturday – he can be ‘the guy’ when it matters.