How Canada Olympic Nomination Has Rejuvenated New York Rangers' Rick Nash

Tom Urtz Jr.@@TomUrtzJrContributor IJanuary 16, 2014

There is no question that Rick Nash is a very talented hockey player, but the problem is that the $7.8 million man doesn’t always play like one. He was a big fish in a small pond that was the Columbus Blue Jackets, and it was assumed that a role reversal with the New York Rangers would help him become a more productive player.

The script read that way for the 2012-13 season, but injuries and inconsistent play have plagued the swarthy Canadian winger for most of 2013-14. Nash has flat out "sucked from head to toe" on numerous occasions, and it has been frustrating for fans who thought he would be a savior for the Blueshirts’ goal scoring problems.

Rangers fans started to lose patience with their struggling scorer, but since January 6, the day before Team Canada’s Olympic roster announcement, Nash has given them a reason to have faith. To the surprise of many, Nash was selected to represent his country, and since that date he has illustrated why he will be sent to Sochi.

The prospect and eventual Olympic selection of Nash has lit a burning flame inside, and he has been playing like an Olympian for the Rangers. Emphasis is placed on the word "playing" because visually he has been a lot more involved, even though the scoresheet isn't always backing that up.

Before Nash got better, he started from the bottom, and now we're here.

One of his biggest character traits is his streakiness—Nash sometimes performs a Houdini act (h/t The Hockey News). The 2012-13 playoffs were a great example of this, and Nash was as useful as John Scott during the shootout.

From December 7 to January 4, the Rangers played 14 games, and during that span Nash scored two goals, including a stretch of seven games in which he went goalless. Frankly, that is pathetic, and any other player would have been scratched if that happened.

Here is just a breakdown of said 14 games.

Rick Nash's Epic Drought
12/07/2013NJD000-1418:59 (highlight indicates zero goals scored)

To Alain Vigneault’s credit, you can see he started limiting Nash’s ice time, but he gave his winger a chance to redeem himself against his former club.

On January 6, the Rangers faced the Blue Jackets in a game that had dual importance for Nash. For starters, it was an opportunity to show up his former club, and secondly it was his last chance to show Hockey Canada he was worth selecting.

That is exactly what the Brampton, Ontario native did, and it was a turning-point game for the 29-year-old sniper.

During the showdown, Nash scored two goals and rifled off five shots during 19:28 minutes of ice time. 

It was a solid game for Nash, who has built on that strong performance over the last few games. Against the Chicago Blackhawks, Nash was kept off the scoresheet, but he recorded three shots and was a threat throughout the game.

During Nash’s next game, he scored a signature goal against the Dallas Stars, a moment that really illustrated why Nash was selected No. 1 overall back in 2002.

Although the goal was simply a combination of luck and skill, it symbolized something Nash has been trying to harness all year long. In that microcosmic moment, the goal represented Nash finally making the most of his determination and effort and allowed him to relax and get the monkey off his back.

Even though Nash appeared to be out of the play, he willed the puck into the net because he wouldn’t be denied. That same attitude carried over to the Rangers’ contest against the Philadelphia Flyers, during which Nash found the back of the net for the second time in two games.

He would fling the puck on goal on five other occasions, only to be denied by Ray Emery, and he looked like a man possessed.

This writer was in attendance for Sunday’s contest against the Flyers, and on every rush it looked like Nash was ready to take over. He used his 6’4” and 219-pound frame along the boards. He utilized his speed and soft hands to weave the puck through traffic, and he ultimately let loose his amazing wrist shot with extreme accuracy and precision.

Nash was kept off the scoreboard once again versus the Tampa Bay Lightning, but he came ever so close to putting the puck in the net. The Rangers as a whole unit dominated all but nine seconds of the contest, but ultimately it only took nine seconds for them to lose the game.

The 10-year league veteran has 11 goals and nine assists for 20 points this season. The numbers look bad, but Nash has scored 36.36 percent of those goals—the number is four if you suck at math like this writer does—over the last five games.

It appears that Nash has turned a corner, and for that reason he will finish the season strong. His skills are undeniable, and he is finally playing with confidence. Nash is fired up because of the Olympics, and his comments via Steve Zipay of Newsday indicate how grateful he is.

Nash remarked, "Any time you strap on the red and white maple leaf, it seems like it's gold or nothing. Everyone wants gold, and that's the only thing that's acceptable to Canada. It's a huge deal."

This honor has resonated with Nash, and as you can see it has already paid significant dividends for the Broadway Blueshirts.


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