NASHVILLE, TN - APRIL 4: Marian Gaborik #10 of the Columbus Blue Jackets skates the puck in to the zone against Roman Josi #59 of the Nashville Predators during an NHL game at the Bridgestone Arena on April 4, 2013 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images)

Under Pressure: Marian Gaborik


“Under Pressure” is a preseason series we’ll be running on PHT. For each team in the NHL, we’ll pick one player, coach, GM, mascot or whatever that everyone will be watching closely this season. Feel free to play the song as you read along. Also feel free to go to the comment section and tell us we picked poorly.

For the Columbus Blue Jackets we picked… forward Marian Gaborik.

The New York Rangers took a big risk when they inked Gaborik to a five-year, $37.5 million deal in the summer of 2009. Gaborik played in just 17 games in his contract season, but he was only 27 years old and had recorded at least 30 goals in five of his previous six campaigns going into 2008-09. He seemed like the type of guy worth taking a big chance on.

He still is, just not to the same extent. The Columbus Blue Jackets clearly still think Gaborik has a lot to offer as they made significant sacrifices to acquire him. But when it comes to inking him to an extension as he once again enters a contract season?

“We want to get more familiar with him, get to know him better,” Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen explained in July as his justification for not negotiating with Gaborik. As recently as two weeks ago, Kekalainen confirmed that the two sides still haven’t talked about an extension.

The bottom line is that between injury problems and just inconsistent play, Gaborik has had two amazing seasons where he breached the 40-goal mark and two rough campaigns over the course of his deal so far. There’s no question he has the potential to lead the Blue Jackets’ offensively, but will he? Kekalainen wants evidence of that before handing Gaborik another lucrative deal.

The Jackets better hope he steps up though, because they don’t have much of a Plan B, at least in the short-term. They made a big splash by signing Nathan Horton to a seven-year, $37.1 million deal over the summer, but he could be out until December or January with a shoulder injury. If Gaborik struggles out of the gate, then Columbus’ already anemic offensive will be a huge problem.

This is a team that came tantalizingly close to making the playoffs last season and is hungry for just their second postseason berth and first playoff victory. They certainly aren’t a safe bet to accomplish any of that in 2013-14 though.

The Blue Jackets are heavily counting on their defense and goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, but they also need a forward capable of being heroic. If Gaborik can prove that he’s still that type of player, then he will be richly rewarded.

For all of our Under Pressure series, click here.

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.