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Fun with small sample sizes: What Marian Gaborik’s return means for New York

Nov 11, 2010, 2:00 PM EDT

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It’s been about a month since we’ve seen Marian Gaborik on the ice for the New York Rangers. He’s been out of action with a shoulder injury suffered in an October 15th game against the Maple Leafs and while he’s been out, the Rangers have been a perfectly average 6-6-0. He’s set to come back tonight and looking at things statistically, which is hazardous to do so early in the season to begin with, can at least provide some time-killing amusement.

Since the big-time scoring wing’s absence from the lineup, the Rangers have averaged 2.3 goals per game offensively. Meanwhile, defensively they’ve given up an average of 2.5 goals per game. The offense is down, but thanks to Brandon Dubinsky and his ten goals this year, it’s not totally out. In that time, Henrik Lundqvist has two shutouts (against Toronto and New Jersey).

If you’re wondering where the true small sample size comes into play, buckle up for some really dumb analysis. While Gaborik was in the lineup for two games and eight minutes of the game against Toronto, the Rangers offense averaged 4.33 goals per game (13 goals in three games) while the defense gave up, you guessed it, the same 4.33 goals per game. The conclusion being here that you could perhaps say that Gaborik was part of that offensive explosion and defensive failure… Except that Gaborik had just two assists in that time and had a plus/minus of +1.

The lesson here is that trying to figure out just what Gaborik means to the lineup in coming back based upon what we’ve seen is foolish and we can be safe in assuming that a 40-goal scorer returning to a lineup will help give a lift to an offense that’s getting big, an unexpected, production from luminaries like Dubinsky and Brian Boyle (who has seven goals). Ryan Callahan and Artem Anisimov join Dubinsky as the top three scorers on the team and if you believed that would be the case when the season began you’d have been run out of town.

Through his first 15 games last year with the Rangers, Gaborik had 12 goals and eight assists, good for 20 points – a point total that would put him first on the team this year by six points. Subtracting that kind of offense from a lineup that has ultimately seen four losses by two goals and two other losses by one goal makes a world of difference.

Still, the Rangers are more often than not playing solid hockey right now. After coming off a shutout by the Blues and a tough 5-3 loss to the Caps, Gaborik’s return tonight might just be what the doctor ordered to get the Rangers turned around towards more consistency and prevent an official losing streak.

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