Rangers in playoff contention despite injuries

When Marian Gaborik was benched earlier this week by New York Rangers head coach John Tortorella, the message was clear – play better. Gaborik responded to the benching by chipping in four goals and adding an assist in Wednesday night’s 7-0 pummeling of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

“It feels good,” said Gaborik after the game. “It has been a battle lately. I need to get going. It is always a big relief to get the first one. It just took off from there.”

Since his Dec. 2 hat trick, Gaborik had only tallied three goals for the Rangers – including only one goal and three total points over the last ten games. It was these lackluster stats that forced Tortorella to bench his superstar this past Sunday against the Philadelphia Flyers and limit his ice time to only 12:45, roughly 6 minutes less than his usual average per night.

“We need production from him,” said Tortorella of the benching. “We’ve got guys in there grinding their asses off and developing scoring chances. We need some of our skill guys to score a goal for us.”

The Rangers are hoping that Gaborik’s offensive outburst will become a normal occurrence over the next few weeks, especially since the team just found out that leading scorer Brandon Dubinsky will be sidelined for up to six weeks with a stress fracture in his left leg. With this injury, Dubinksy is just the latest casualty to fall prey to injury on the Rangers roster. Erik Christensen, Ryan Callahan, Alex Frolov, Derek Boogaard and Vinny Prospal are all currently sidelined with injuries.

Despite these injuries, the Rangers are still pushing forward and currently sit 6th in the East with 57 points – seven more than the 9th place Carolina Hurricane. And to get themselves into that position, the Rangers have had to call upon more than just their superstars to carry the team.

Before his injury, Dubinsky was on pace to set career highs in both goals and assists. With 38 points on the season in 47 games, Dubinksy was just three goals and six total points shy of his career best numbers for goals and points. Dubinsky has emerged as a legitimate star on Broadway, but others have helped carry the torch, too.

In only his second full season with the big club, Artem Anisimov is well on his way to doubling last season’s point totals. And 20-year-old Derek Stepan, in his first full season in the NHL, already has 28 points, including 13 goals and 15 assists. In fact, six players on the Rangers’ roster have 10 or more goals and eight players have 20 or more points.

Wojtek Wolski also appears to be a good addition to the roster. While he has only played in five games with the Rangers since getting traded from the Phoenix Coyotes, Wolski has tallied two goals and added in three assists in that time. When the Rangers get healthy, Wolski could prove to be a valuable depth acquisition if he continues his point-per-game pace.

But the real star for the Rangers has again been goaltender Henrik Lundqvist who has started in 36 of the team’s 48 games. Lundqvist sports a healthy 2.21 goals against average over that time along with .928 save percentage – numbers good enough to merit him a selection into next weeks NHL All-Star Game. Lundqvist gives this team a chance to win night-in and night-out.

But Lundqvist has gotten some help this season with the emergence of Marc Staal and Dan Girardi as the top defensive pairing for the blueshirts. Staal, who was named to this year’s All-Star roster, and Girardi have a combined plus-20 while Girardi has also chipped in an impressive 22 assists thus far. Like many Rangers players this season, both Staal and Girardi are on pace for career-best totals in many stat categories.

The Rangers have quietly put together a solid campaign throughout the first half of the season and will look to continue that trend down the stretch. While the team hopes for more from Marian Gaborik than the occasional offensive outburst or a hat trick once  a month, the Rangers are playing team hockey right now with every player contributing on a nightly basis.  Coming into the second half of the season with the trade deadline on the horizon, the Rangers could find themselves buyers this year and might look to make a splash to help secure themselves a spot in the postseason.

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