Marian Gaborik, Dwayne Roloson

Rangers Marian Gaborik and Ryan McDonagh will play against Flyers today

As Joe points out, a drop in offensive output is one of the big reasons why the New York Rangers are slipping from a comfortable stroll toward an Eastern Conference lower seed to a tough fight with bubble teams for one of the last two spots. They’re still in their familiar seventh position, but with 72 points in 67 games played, they’re only one point ahead of the eighth place Carolina Hurricanes and two ahead of the hard-charging Buffalo Sabres. When you consider the fact that Carolina holds a game in hand and Buffalo has three more games remaining, the Rangers don’t exactly have a lot of time to find their punch.

Luckily, the team “found” its greatest sniper again, as Jesse Spector reports that Marian Gaborik (along with defenseman Ryan McDonagh) will play in today’s NBC Game of the Week against the Philadelphia Flyers.

Gaborik has been out of action since February 20th. The injury prone player’s most recent ailment has been a concussion. Although he was actually in coach John Tortorella’s doghouse at times this season, Gaborik scored nine points in nine games from January 24th to February 17th. He might not have the substantial grit of a Ryan Callahan or the all-around skills of Brandon Dubinsky, but no Rangers forward shares his ceiling offensively. The Rangers need a healthy, focused Gaborik to retain their playoff spot, so it must be thrilling for fans to hear that he’s “all in.”

McDonagh might not have the kind of splashy impact Gaborik does (the defenseman has zero goals and five assists in 25 games played this season), but he’s been getting substantial ice time as of late. He received between 23 and 24:55 time on ice in four of five games before getting banged up on March 3rd. It’s clear that Tortorella’s trust of the 12th overall pick of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft is increasing as the playoffs approach, a flattering sign of trust for a 21-year-old blueliner.

In other words, if both players can approach their full-strength abilities, they’ll be huge additions to the lineup. It’ll be interesting to see if the desperate Rangers can beat the struggling Flyers this afternoon at 12:30pm ET.

Niemi blanks Pens, notches two assists in Stars debut

Antti Niemi, Sidney Crosby, Patric Hornqvist

DALLAS (AP) — Antti Niemi recorded his 33rd career shutout and assisted on two goals in his Dallas debut, as the Stars beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-0 on Thursday night in the season opener for both.

Ales Hemsky had a power-play goal and an assist.

Rookie Matthias Janmark scored on his first shot on his first shift in an NHL game to make it 1-0. The Stars acquired Niemi and Janmark in trades earlier this year.

Dallas scored on two of five power plays. Jamie Benn, the NHL’s leading scorer last season, had a power-play goal in the third period.

Niemi made 37 saves to improve his career record against the Penguins to 5-1-1. He withstood a flurry in the final minute after Pittsburgh pulled goalie Marc-Andre Fleury for an extra skater.

Fleury had 21 saves.

The Stars are 4-0-1 in their last five home games against Pittsburgh, and have won three in a row overall.

Janmark skated down the slot, took a pass from Hemsky and shot between Fleury’s legs at 1:39 of the first.

The Penguins dominated the latter half of the period, but couldn’t score. Niemi’s best stop was a reaching glove save of Rod Scuderi’s drive from the blue line with less than 3 minutes remaining. Pittsburgh outshot the Stars 10-4 in the first.

Hemsky scored at 5:42 of the second on Dallas’ first power play. His shot from the top of the right faceoff circle went in over Fleury’s right shoulder.

The Penguins again had an advantage in shots, 13-11. Pittsburgh had chances in close, but Niemi turned those away. Midway through the second, John Klingberg cleared away a loose puck from in front of the net.

Seven seconds into the Stars’ fourth power play of the third period, Jamie Benn tipped in Jason Spezza‘s shot from the right point.

NOTES: Dallas acquired Janmark as part of a March trade that sent Erik Cole to Detroit. The rookie had been playing in the Swedish Hockey League. . San Jose traded Niemi’s rights to the Stars in June for a seventh-round draft pick. Also making their Dallas debuts were LW Patrick Sharp and D Johnny Oduya, teammates with Chicago’s Stanley Cup champions last season. . In his first game for the Penguins, Phil Kessel played in his 447th straight game. . Pittsburgh was 0 for 3 on the power play.

Fabbri’s first spoils McDavid’s debut as Blues down Oilers

Robby Fabbri, Justin Schultz
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ST. LOUIS (AP) — Rookie Robby Fabbri scored the tiebreaking goal midway through the third period to help the St. Louis Blues beat Edmonton 3-1 Thursday night, spoiling Oilers rookie Connor McDavid‘s NHL debut.

Vladimir Tarasenko had the tying goal for the Blues near the midpoint of the second period, and Troy Brouwer added an empty-netter with 18 seconds remaining in the third. Brian Elliott finished with 23 saves.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scored in the first period for Edmonton and Cam Talbot had 28 saves.

McDavid, the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft, took 22 shifts, played 18:07 and was on the ice for Brouwer’s goal. He had two shots on goal, and struggled on faceoffs – winning only three of 13.

Fabbri, a 19-year-old forward — and McDavid’s childhood friend — was also playing in his first NHL game. The Blues’ first-round pick in 2014 was one of three rookies in the St. Louis lineup, joining defensemen Colton Parayko and Joel Edmundson.

Nugent-Hopkins gave the Oilers a 1-0 lead late in the first period with a fluke power-play goal. He lost a face-off but when Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo tried to clear the puck it bounced off Alexander Steen and past Brian Elliott. Nugent-Hopkins was credited with the unassisted power-play goal with 2:38 remaining in the period.

Tarasenko tied it a 9:10 of the second after getting loose on a breakaway with a stretch pass from Alex Pietrangelo and beating Talbot through his legs.

Tarasenko, who signed an eight-year, $60 million extension in the offseason, was the last Blues player to score in his debut.

NOTES: McDavid and F Anton Slepyshev made their NHL debuts for the Oilers. … St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina dropped the ceremonial first puck. … The attendance was announced as standing room-only 19,327.