Marian Gaborik is squeezing his stick a bit tighter these days, which is to say he can feel the scoreless games piling up.
Gaborik, who missed the first 21 games of the Kings' season with a broken foot, has scored just once in 16 contests. His last goal came 11 games ago. He also has just three assists on the year, and his slump is coinciding with a slow stretch for a first line that consists of him, Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown. That has led to inconsistency for a Kings offense paced by Jeff Carter and his 21 goals — which ranks him second in the NHL behind Sidney Crosby — and Gaborik knows it.
The Kings (19-15-4) host the Detroit Red Wings (16-17-5) at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, which offers yet another chance for Gaborik to snap out of this funk. After Carter, the Kings' next highest scorer is Tanner Pearson with 10 goals. After that is Tyler Toffoli with eight, and he has not played since Dec. 20.
The 34-year-old Gaborik would normally be on the outskirts of that neighborhood, at the very least, even given the games he has missed. He has never scored fewer than 10 goals in a season, and even netted 13 goals in an injury-shortened 17-game year with the Minnesota Wild in 2008-09. Right now he is nowhere close to it.
"I think I just the last couple games I've been moving well and stuff, I just have to keep doing that and obviously shooting more," Gaborik said after the Kings' morning skate on Thursday. "Thinking more 'shot' when it's there than a pass. I'm just going to keep grinding."
Shooting more would be a good start, as Gaborik has registered more than three shots in just two of his last 12 appearances. When told that Gaborik feels he needs to look for more shots, Kings Coach Darryl Sutter said, "I would agree 100%."
His lone goal of the season came in a 4-1 win over the Senators on Dec. 10, and he finished that month with 28 shots, one goal and two assists in 13 games. That also included a benching in a 1-0 loss at Boston on Dec. 18. Sutter recalled that game on Thursday when asked if he has seen Gaborik grow frustrated by his scoring drought.
"We sat him out because I was frustrated," Sutter said without missing a beat.
Gaborik, and the Kings, are hoping his production flips as the calendar does. The Kings have scored more than three goals in just one of their last nine contests, and will look to locate an offensive groove during a seven-game home stand that starts with the Red Wings.
That could start on Thursday, and it could start with Gaborik. Yet "could" does not show up on the scoreboard. Gaborik vowed to not cheat on the other facets of the game — defense, creating opportunities for his teammates and so on — but scoring still sits atop his list of priorities.
"Just work on it, you know?" Gaborik said of how he can break out of his slump. "Whether it's in practice, and ... in games just try to stay positive and when there's a chance you just got to bear down.
"Obviously you're squeezing your stick hard a little bit, but when there's a chance, just try to bear down and work for those chances and stay on top of the things in terms of all-around game."