Euro Trip to the All Star Game?
Ilya Kovalchuk and Marian Gaborik Catch Fire
It took a while, but it seems as if someone finally told NY Rangers’ star wingers Ilya Kovalchuk and Marian Gaborik just how good they really are. After a dismal start to the season offensively by nearly every player on the roster, the Russian and Slovakian winger line mates seemed to be alternating between taking a night off and being a difference maker in the game.
“That’s obviously not our mentality at all,” commented Gaborik when asked if they had been guilty of taking games off. “It’s easy to get complacent when you have a guy of Kovie’s calibre lined up across the faceoff circle but I want to win, I want to produce and I want to score. I don’t care who is on my line, my team, or on the other team for that matter, I want to be the best player on the ice every shift.”
Well, having said that, it appears there is some inter-team competition going on between the European pair, as they have been arguably the two hottest players in the league for a solid week and a bit. Their numbers have sky rocketed them onto the league leader board. Kovalchuk is currently 7th in the league with 35 points in 33 games, a good number of them coming in the last 8-10 games. And Gaborik is not trailing by much, as he is currently sitting at 30 points on the year which has him tied for 20th in league scoring. Even more impressive than their stellar point numbers is the fact that they are currently numbers four and five in the league in goals.
“I love to score,” said Kovalchuk. “I like to make plays too, good passing but I love goals.”
We don’t know if that’s a bit of modesty from the 25 year old native of Tver, Russia or just a language barrier; nevertheless Kovalchuk lets his play on the ice do the talking for him.
The two have excelled especially since being paired on the top line together with Jordan Staal at center. We asked Head Coach John Tortorella about this move following an optional team skate. “You can’t really go too wrong when you have players of that calibre; each one could essentially be his own line but I put them together and they’ve taken off. I tried them on the second line at first with a number of different centers (Henrik Sedin, Andrew Ebbett, Rich Peverley) and although they were scoring, the line was getting victimized defensively. So it was a bit of a no brainer to put Jordan (Staal) in there, who I think is one of the best young defensive centers in the game, and they’ve taken off. Its good players like that that make coaches look good.”
Jordan Staal, besides being a main factor in Kovalchuk and Gaborik being at the top of the team in plus minus rating, has even started producing himself, a job that hasn’t been his main focus in the past. Staal had a mediocre 4 points in 13 games with the Penguins, but since being acquired by the Rangers he’s put up 12 points in 20 games for the team.
“Yeah, it’s a nice bonus. I mean it’s not like its anything to brag about; you could probably put any Timbits hockey player in between those two guys and he’s going to produce.” Chuckled Staal. “What I’m most happy with is the fact that we’re able to produce so consistently and still stay defensive. If we score every shift and get scored on every other shift that makes us a very average line and there is nothing average about Ilya and Marian. We just need to maintain our defensive awareness and the goals should come to those guys naturally.”
The Ranger’s top line has definitely managed to stay defensive as they are the best defensive unit on the team right now boasting +11, +9 and +6 ratings, which lead or are near the top in team plus minus ratings.
The league and fellow General Managers have not failed to take notice either, as Kovalchuk and Gaborik are not far off the leads in voting as the starting wingers for the Eastern Conference All Star Team. And rightfully so as Kovalchuk is 3rd in points and 2nd in goals for Eastern Conference left wingers and Gaborik is 3rd in points and 1st in goals for Eastern Conference right wingers.
“Any time you have a player voted in by the GM’s to be in the starting line-up for the All Star Game, it’s a huge compliment, but when you have two, it’s a big-time indication of just how much respect the league has for your team, and it’s something we appreciate.” Said General Manager Darren Tucker. “We are very excited to have potentially two guys in the starting line-up and I don’t think it would be out of the question to have 2 or 3 more guys on the roster also. It’s a huge compliment and very exciting.”