Whether or not it’s warranted, Rick Nash has taken some serious flack for his seeming inability to be the offensive threat in the playoffs that he’s so consistently been throughout the regular seasons of his career. While the Rangers’ leading goal scorer during the 2014-15 regular season is ranked second on the team this postseason in points, with seven, he’s only found the back of the net twice, a concerning continuation from playoffs past.
What is different this time, however, is that Nash isn’t just playing well defensively, he is also getting to those high percentage areas despite the tighter checking game that is the playoffs. That couldn’t be said for the playoff runs of 2013 and many portions of 2014.
In comparing the power forward’s shot charts, which you can view HERE courtesy of sportingcharts.com, from the 2014 playoffs to this year’s playoffs up to this point, it is evident that he is getting into the middle of the ice more this year, and fewer of his shots are coming from far to the outside on both sides of the net. That is without a doubt a big positive for Nash. Better than that though, is that on average, Nash’s shots are also coming from, on average, almost a foot and a half closer than they were last spring.
Ultimately only twice has the puck actually gone in the net for him, but each of those signs point to him being headed in the right direction. Still perplexing though, is the fact that Nash’s shooting percentage is also still frighteningly low, just 4.4 percent, compared to his season average of 13.8 percent.
In theory that number would rise if he continues to stick with it and continues head to the right areas, though you can’t really fault him for running into strong goaltending. After all, the Rangers as a whole squad haven’t exactly had too much luck lighting the lamp either.
But the biggest reason leading me to believe that Nash is bound to have a breakout series against the Lightning, beyond him doing all of the right things except finishing, is because of the style of play that I foresee emerging in this series.
Both the Rangers and the Lightning thrived off of fast paced play with space to work with during the regular season. That was how both team’s sprung to the top of the league in offense, and it’s where both teams are most comfortable; pushing the pace and controlling play. If that does indeed turn out to be the case, and this is a much more open, run ‘n gun type series as opposed to the Capitals series in round two which was extremely tight checking where space was at a premium, then it will not only suit the Rangers as a whole, but it will also be right within Rick Nash’s wheel house.
We saw moments against Washington where Nash had time and space. On most of those opportunities, Holtby rose to the task as he did in most instances throughout the series, but on one of those occasions, Nash buried what turned out to be one of the biggest goals of the series.
If this upcoming Eastern Conference Finals series between the Rangers and the Lightning plays out the way I expect it will, speed and space will be the name of the game and Rick Nash will get to play within his comfort zone.
Nash has already been able to get to and position himself in the high percentage areas throughout each series in these playoffs. If this series does turn out to be more open than the others, then I firmly believe that not only will he continue to find himself in the right areas, but we as spectators will finally see Rick Nash be the playoff performer fans have been hoping he would be for years.
And let’s face it, Ben Bishop is still pretty new to this whole playoffs thing as well. That’s got to account for something, right?
Jake Gittler is now in his second season as a contributing member of The Hockey Writers. After spending the 2014-15 season working in Communications for Adirondack Flames of the AHL and covering the New York Rangers here for The Hockey Writers, Jake’s coverage has been switched over to the Colorado Avalanche for the 2015-16 season. Jake can be reached via email at Jakegittler@gmail.com, or on Twitter @Jgittler_hockey.