In Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals, John Tortorella benched Marian Gaborik for a majority of the third period after his giveaway led to the Devils’ second goal of the game in the second period. Gaborik, who has struggled to consistently be an offensive threat this postseason, said after the game that he wasn’t given any explanation as to why he was benched or what he did wrong, and that the media would be better off asking Torts about why he was benched.
When asked after the game in his press conference, Torts was his understandably evasive about why Gaborik was benched, and only really said that any issues the Rangers have would be addressed in the room and not out in the open. Gaborik wound up seeing only three shifts in the third period and wasn’t on the ice in the final minutes of the game even when the Rangers pulled Henrik Lundqvist for an extra skater looking to tie the game up late. Many fans have weighed in over whether Torts was right to bench Gaborik, so I decided to join in and shed my views on the matter.
You won’t get much of an argument out of me that Marian Gaborik hasn’t played well this postseason. Aside from his goals in Game 1 of the Quarterfinals against Ottawa and in Game 3 of the Semifinals against Washington that won the game in triple overtime for the Rangers, his overall body of work this postseason has been inconsistent and underwhelming. That being said, Gaborik has still recorded 4 G, 6 A for 10 points in 16 playoff games so far. He’s second on the team behind Brad Richards in both goals and points for the team lead in the playoffs. So, as bad as Gaborik has played during stretches of the postseason, he’s still put up respectable numbers even though it may not seem like it. But the Rangers don’t need him to just put up respectable numbers; they need him to put up elite goal-scoring numbers like he did during the regular season. Gaborik is still getting his shots on goal after he had four shots in Game 1 against the Devils and another shot that went off the post, but for whatever reason the puck just isn’t finding the back of the net. It reminds me a lot of what he went through during the regular season last year.
As far as benching Gaborik in Game 2 goes, I understand why it was done, but I don’t agree with it. I think this Rangers team is starved enough offensively as it is, and to bench a guy who is easily the best pure goal-scorer on the team when his game is right in a one-goal game just seems excessive to me. It’s not like this is a game in the middle of the season against the Islanders or something – this is the Eastern Conference Finals where every shot and every shift is so important. If John Tortorella wanted to hold Gaborik out the rest of the second period after his turnover that led to the Devils’ second goal, and even the first few shifts in the third period for that matter, I would’ve been fine with it. But to not have Gaborik out there in the final minute of the game when the Rangers were scrambling to try and get a goal and tie things up was really what irked me more than anything else. Ruslan Fedotenko, John Mitchell, and Mike Rupp have all been utterly useless this entire postseason offensively, and so has Brian Boyle outside of the first three games against Ottawa. Even talented kids like Derek Stepan, Carl Hagelin, and Artem Anisimov have struggled to do much offensively throughout the playoffs. When you combine all of that, it’s even more imperative that Gaborik is out there as much as possible when the Rangers are in need of a goal.
I know the right thing to do is reward guys who play hard and show good work ethic, but I’m also somebody who believes that eventually you have to let your talented players take over. I know it sets a double-standard and makes Torts look bad to his players if he would’ve let Gaborik get off scot-free after the way Chris Kreider was exiled for three games following his brutal turnover in the Washington series, and I do totally understand what Torts was trying to do. But until the Rangers have another guy on the team who can put up 40 goals in a season and who possesses the offensive skill that Marian Gaborik has where he has the ability to score a goal in the blink of an eye, you need Gaborik to be out there. This isn’t Nik Zherdev or Nik Antropov that was benched in a playoff game – this is a prolific goal-scorer who is one of the best snipers in hockey.
Now, all that being said, I’m not going to just pretend like Marian Gaborik did nothing wrong last night. He’s looked tentative with the puck for a while now and his lack of effort when it comes to turning the puck over and working hard along the boards has been especially troubling. Gaborik has been around long enough to know he can’t take shifts off, and he should also know how important it is to be a fundamentally sound team playing for John Tortorella. Maybe we’ll look back at this moment as being the kick in the backside that Gaborik needed to get going, but the bottom line is that it shouldn’t have even come to this. Gaborik is at a point in his career now where he is supposed to be a veteran leader on this hockey club, and for him to go out there and not finish plays with and without the puck sets a bad precedent for kids like Kreider, Hagelin, and Stepan. That’s all the more reason John Tortorella didn’t hesitate in benching Gaborik last night.
My final thoughts are this: even though benching Marian Gaborik in Game 2 made sense and sent the right message to the team, I think it was a little overboard. The Rangers need his goal-scoring ability and for him to be a game-changer if they eventually want to get to the Stanley Cup Finals. If it was just about anybody else on the team that was benched for this type of play I would fully support Torts on it, but to me, sometimes the amount of talent a player has needs to outweigh a bad play he makes. That’s how I felt in Game 2 in Gaborik’s case.
What do you think? Was John Tortorella right in benching Marian Gaborik in Game 2?
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