Crunch time for Rangers and Marian Gaborik

Marian Gaborik celebrates his first goal during a Marian Gaborik celebrates his first goal during a game against the Boston Bruins at Madison Square Garden. (Jan. 23, 2013) Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

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MONTREAL -- Whatever the future holds for Marian Gaborik -- a goal-scoring resurgence, a continued slog through April, a trade in the offseason -- observers might look back at Friday's practice as a watershed moment.

During the skate at Carleton University in Ottawa before the Rangers flew here, Gaborik -- who scored at least 41 goals three times in the previous five seasons but has nine goals this season -- was demoted to a fourth line with Kris Newbury and Taylor Pyatt.

Near the end of practice, coach John Tortorella initiated a one-on-one conversation along the boards that lasted more than 12 minutes. Tortorella was more animated, at least initially, and Gaborik did most of the listening.

With Wednesday's trade deadline approaching, rumors have begun about the Rangers (16-14-3) shopping Gaborik, 33, who will be in the final season of his five-year, $37.5-million contract next season.

Tortorella declined to comment. "I'm having no discussions regarding my discussions with the players," he said. "It's not one particular player; offensively, it is not just Gabby. You win as a team and lose as a team. For us to become consistent, this has become a club situation."

Said Gaborik: "We had a good conversation, that's all I'm going to say."

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But Gaborik is acutely aware of his season-long slump and denied that offseason shoulder surgery is an issue. He looks tentative and far from a vintage sniper.

"I feel like I have to make a difference," he said. "Just bring my game to another level, try to make something happen from the get-go, be more engaged, get something going right away. Whatever line I'm on, I have to try to make a difference, work hard and get something going."

That's essentially what Tortorella has said, that Gaborik has to get his legs going all game and get "untracked."

Said Gaborik, "You have to put frustration on the side and just focus. There's not a lot of games left and not a lot of time."

Notes & quotes: Mats Zuccarello, who returned from the KHL and joined the team in Ottawa, will play Saturday night against the Canadiens, probably with Brad Richards and Chris Kreider. "We feel he can make plays," Tortorella said. "He certainly can help us in the shootout . . . I think he may help us on the power play. He has good offensive instincts." . . . The Rangers have signed free-agent defenseman Conor Allen, who is leaving UMass after his junior year. He will report to the AHL Connecticut Whale.

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