Goals have been hard to come by for the Kings of late.
But no one is struggling more than forward Marian Gaborik, the goal-scoring hero of their 2014 playoff run. Gaborik has lost his spot on the top line to forward Tyler Toffoli and even when Kings Coach Darryl Sutter was juggling his lines at the end of Thursday’s 3-0 loss to the Minnesota Wild, it was Dustin Brown who had a cameo beside center Anze Kopitar.
Gaborik has not scored a goal in January and has been limited to two assists this month. His ice time, consequently, has fallen off, hitting a season-low 10 minutes 6 seconds Tuesday against Dallas.
He still has a limited power-play presence, but that hasn’t helped him find the scoresheet. Sutter is sympathetic, to a point, about Gaborik’s struggles, noting if he weren’t working hard on his game, he wouldn’t be in the lineup at all.
“A couple of weeks ago, I thought his game was really good,” Sutter said. “Lots of shots. Quality shots.
“Since we got in a busy schedule, I think his energy level went way down, so his detail dropped off. When his detail drops off, his skill does not come to the forefront.
“I’ve told guys: ‘Hey, I’m taking minutes away.’ When we’ve got extra guys, taking minutes away means guys move down or up. Get your game back and you can play. It’s just an honest approach with him.”
“He’s a game-breaker, but his game has to be on,” Sutter said, adding: “When you’re winning you can manage around that stuff. If you’re not, that player is not playing. Now I’m trying to help him through it. When you’re playing well [as a team] you can do that. If it’s a situation where we’re in a slump or something, that player that is also slumping is probably out of the lineup.”
The fact that Sutter hasn’t taken him out is a testament to Gaborik’s work ethic in practice and game-breaking ability.
“He has to feel good about his game,” Sutter said. “He’s got to have the energy. I know him well enough, I can almost tell how he’s going to play by looking at him.
“I’ve been playing him with lots of different guys. Now he’s got to get the quality back in his game in order to get rewarded.”
Gaborik was limited to 69 games, mostly because of injuries, last season. Sutter said if he had played in every game last season, he would have hit the 30-goal mark, or better. In contrast, he is on pace for a 15-goal season in 2015-16.
The Kings have received good scoring runs from Jeff Carter, Toffoli and, more recently, from Kopitar. Recently acquired center Vinny Lecavalier has sparked the power play.
Now Sutter wants Gaborik to take his turn leading the charge.
“We need him to get hot,” Sutter said. “We’ve ridden four or five guys’ numbers this year. We need more, not just out of Gabby. It’s about winning and the team concept. In order to sustain [winning] and do it for a long time, you’ve got to get more out of that part of our lineup, no question.
“That’s not a criticism. That’s a fact.”
When: Saturday, 6 p.m. PST.
On the air: TV: FS West; Radio: 790.
Update: Arizona captain Shane Doan recently passed Dale Hawerchuk as the franchise’s all-time leading goal scorer and, at 39, is unexpectedly leading the Coyotes with 16 goals this season. During goaltender Mike Smith’s extended absence, rookie Louis Domingue has won the starter’s job ahead of Anders Lindback. The Coyotes have lost four consecutive games to fall out of a playoff position.