Rick Nash: The Chronicles of an MVP Candidate, Part 1

I’ve written a fair bit about Rick Nash over the past four months or so, but when you step a look from a distance at what he’s accomplishing this season, you’ll realize it is warranted in every sense. Through 48 games, Nash has in my opinion been the Rangers MVP, and he should be the NHL’s come June if his remarkable season continues.

Monday’s Performance Not Surprising

If John Tortorella were coaching the Rangers, he would’ve said two words to describe the Rangers’ start to Monday’s game; “We sucked.”

In the opening minutes, the Rangers were outshot 8-1 and quickly fell behind 1-0. Then, Dan Girardi was sent to the penalty box for tripping Jonathan Huberdeau, and in the blink of an eye, the Blueshirts were in danger of falling into a two goal hole.

But who swooped in to save the day? You guessed it.

Rick Nash.

As the Panthers cycled, the puck made its way back to rookie Aaron Ekblad at the blue line, and when the young blue liner was unable to chorale, Nash took advantage. He gained control of the puck, raced down on a breakaway, and beat Roberto Luongo with a backhand-forehand fake.

In an instant, the Garden went from a morgue with its team on the verge of a big two goal deficit, to a jumping, alive arena. And with the awakening of the crowd came the awakening of the Rangers, thanks in large part to Mr. Rick Nash.

Aside from being his 30th goal of the season – the first time he’s ever done that as a member of the New York Rangers – it was also his fourth shorthanded goal of the 2014-15 campaign. That number not only has him tied for the league lead in shorthanded goals with Tyler Toffoli, he is also the only player currently in the top-10 in the league in goals to even have scored a single shorthanded goal this season. In fact, the last player to score that many shorthanded goals while also finishing the season in the NHL’s top-10 in goals was Corey Perry when he did it back in 2010-11.

Nash now has four in 48 games…

Now, it should go without saying that it’s pretty rare to see a goal scorer of Nash’s caliber killing penalties, let alone scoring shorthanded goals at the rate at which he is. But he is doing it, and it is just phenomenal to watch.

When killing penalties, Nash is relentless in his pursuit to apply pressure at the opposition’s blue line, and in return he has been rewarded time and time again with interceptions of the puck, which have led to countless opportunities – shorthanded and not – in the high percentage scoring areas.

Some can say that there’s no possible way his 17.3 percent shooting percentage will continue to hold up, and it’s true, that is a staggering number when it stands alone. Alex Ovechkin (12.4%) and Tyler Seguin (13.5%) who complete the league’s top-three scorers don’t come close to Nash’s 17.3 percent, but the case can also be made the Nash has created his own luck thus far, and if he continues to generate pressure in the defensive zone and do all the right things away from the puck, as well as getting to the right areas when skating in the offensive zone, it doesn’t seem all that farfetched for his pace of production to hold up.

Regardless, shorthanded, even-strength, on the power play, or with an empty net, Rick Nash is both a serious threat every time he’s on the ice, and he is finishing his chances almost every opportunity he gets.

With the empty net goal he added in the waning seconds of Monday’s game, the 30-year-old winger is now tied with Alex Ovechkin for the league lead in goals, with 31.

The Recurring Narrative of Team over Self

We’re starting to hear this more often from Nash; the importance of the team’s success rather than his own, and those, my friends, are the words of a Hart winner.

When Nash was in Columbus for the All-Star game, he told this to reporters during media day:

“More important that the personal success is the team success,” said Nash. “I want the (trophy) that we were close to last year. As you get older in your career you want to help the team win as much, but the personal goals don’t matter nearly as much as the team goals.”

Then again, following his two goal performance in the Rangers’ 6-3 win over the Panthers on Monday, Nash reiterated that team over self message.

When asked about reaching the 30-goal mark, Nash admitted that “it’s a nice accomplishment,” but was then quick to give credit to his fellow teammates.

“It just shows how good my linemates are and how good the team is doing. Personal success always comes after team success.”

The numbers, the strong play in all scenarios, and the leadership. Those are all characteristics of a Hart contender.

And really though, where would the Rangers be without him? Probably just relying more heavily on Henrik Lundqvist…

Wednesday will be another big test for the Rangers as they faceoff against the red-hot Boston Bruins who have won eight of their last ten. For the Blueshirts, it’s just another chance to widen the gap between those on the inside, and those on the outside looking in.