Rick Nash is naturally the subject of much scrutiny among New York Rangers fans, given his annual salary cap value of $7.8 million. His lower scoring production in the playoffs (12 goals in 65 career postseason contests) has also drawn criticism. Add to that last season’s disappointing 15-goal output in 60 games, and you have a player who entered this season with a lot to prove.
To this point, Nash has spoken loudly through his excellent all-around play for the Rangers this season.
Scoring Touch Back
With Mika Zibanejad and Pavel Buchnevich both out of the lineup with long-term injuries, the Rangers player who has stepped up the most in terms of filling the scoring void is Nash, despite the fact that he missed four games himself between Dec. 8 and Dec. 13 with a groin injury.
While Nash is relied upon as one of the team’s primary scorers under normal circumstances, he has raised his level in recent weeks, picking up six goals in his past 11 games, including two in the three games since his return to the lineup on Dec. 15. UPDATE: Unfortunately for the Nash and the Rangers, the winger injured the other side of his groin in Sunday’s game against New Jersey, and will again be sidelined for an unknown period of time.
For the season, Nash has 13 goals in 30 games played, which equates to about 36 goals over a full 82 games. That’s the kind of production the Rangers are looking for out of Nash. Besides the numbers, Nash is also scoring true “goal scorer’s goals” this season, proving that his elite offensive touch is back this year after a rough previous season.
With the Rangers’ scoring pace down, Nash is a more important source of offense than ever, and he is delivering. Having a strong forecheck and puck possession game is important to create scoring chances and try to score ugly goals, but every team needs game-breaking talent to step up in key spots, and that’s what Nash gives to the Rangers. There are not many players in the league who can score via a top-shelf backhander after an end-to-end rush, or on a high shot on the short side from a sharp angle, as Nash did in recent games against Carolina and Nashville, respectively.
Nash is a power forward with speed, finesse, and a good scoring touch. However, he is more than just a goal-scoring, offensively-oriented player. He is extremely proficient in all three zones, and is one of the Rangers’ top penalty killers.
Even when he isn’t scoring, he is always providing value to the Rangers in some way because his defensive game is always on point. That being said, a player of his stature and with his contract needs to put the puck in the net at the end of the day, but Nash’s effectiveness in all situations is a luxury that the Rangers and their fans should never take for granted.
In New York’s 2-0 win at Dallas on Dec. 15 — Nash’s first game back from his groin injury that sidelined him for four games — No. 61 had one play that displayed so many of his strengths.
In a 0-0 deadlock in the third period, the Rangers had to kill off a Dallas power play, and Nash used his smarts to read Jamie Benn’s pass at the New York blue line and intercept the puck. He then used his speed to create a wide range of separation on his ensuing breakaway before finishing off the play with a quick bar-down snipe to put the Rangers up 1-0. They would ultimately go on to win 2-0 after an empty-net goal by Mats Zuccarello, so Nash’s shorthanded tally proved to be the game-winner. Not a bad way for him to announce his return to the lineup.
Nash, now 32, still has the speed, skill, and strength to be a major force for the Rangers. Despite some of his past struggles, he is such a critical part of the Rangers’ success and has arguably been the club’s best forward this season. If he can manage to come back healthy soon, remain healthy, and keep up his strong play while the Rangers keep winning, he might just get a chance to silence some of his doubters in the playoffs.