The New York Rangers have been on an upswing over the last few weeks, and Rick Nash has played a huge role in the team's success. His dominance has been undeniable, and his impact has been very encouraging for a team comprised of many complementary players.
Earlier in the year, the team was without their star winger for 17 games because of a concussion, and it felt like he was still out of the lineup when he struggled upon his return. It is possible that Nash was not properly conditioned, and his current success is the byproduct of getting back in shape.
Using that logic, it is no coincidence that the Rangers are winning and Nash is white hot, because his hot streak has meant a lot to the Blueshirts. Over the last 10 games, the Blueshirts have a record of 7-3-0, and they currently sit in second place in the Metropolitan Division.
Nash is showing he can be a star winger, and it means the Rangers may be on their way to another meaningful playoff run. The consistency of Nash's goal scoring has been key, because goal scoring has not been one of the Blueshirts' strengths over the last few seasons.
However, this year Nash has been able to be a difference maker for his team, and he has provided some clutch goals. There have been other players, such as Mats Zuccarello, that have been very helpful thus far, but Nash's offensive production has made it easier for everyone.
Nash is paid to be a difference maker, and he has been able to make a name for himself in his second year on Broadway. He is on pace to once again finish with more than 30 goals, and that is a huge achievement.
The 2002 first overall pick's timely scoring has helped to alleviate the pressure placed players like Zuccarello, Brad Richards, Derick Brassard and etc., because they helped the Rangers stay afloat during Nash's absence.
Although Nash has been a huge difference maker as of late, he hasn't been able to do it alone. The trio of Nash, Derek Stepan and Chris Kreider has been a tremendous trio thus far, and Nash told Pat Leonard of the New York Daily News how much his linemates have meant to him thus far.
“(Kreider) backs off the D-man, and they’ve got to respect his speed now,” Nash said. “That opens more ice for me and Step. He’s one of the main reasons me and Step are having success right now.”
With the support of his linemates, Nash has been able to show the world why he is one of the NHL's top wingers. That is a nice change of pace, and something this writer talked about in early December.
"The 2002 No. 1 overall pick in the NHL draft has not had a multi-goal game this season. That is something that is going to have to change. Nash is one of the NHL's best goal scorers and should be producing at a higher rate in New York."
Over the last 10 games, Nash has found the net 11 times. That stretch includes three two-goal games and a stretch in which he scored in six straight. (I am glad to see that Nash takes the time out of his busy schedule to read my musings at Bleacher Report, and therefore, I will take full and unmitigated credit for his latest success.)
The steady production has allowed head coach Alain Vigneault to keep all of his players loose, and he has routinely rolled four lines. This has allowed Vigneault to use Nash in key situations, and playing only 17:15 a game has made Nash very effective in multiple situations.
It is the lowest average time on ice of Nash's career in recent memory, and the lightened load certainly has been a nice luxury.
Going forward, as goes Nash, so will the Rangers, and the Blueshirts will go far if Nash keeps this pace up. While he is unlikely to average a goal per game the rest of the way, there is a chance he hits the 40-goal mark.
There is only a week or so left until the Winter Olympic break in Sochi, and hopefully Nash is able to remain healthy during that period. If he stays hot with Team Canada, the momentum could continue when he swaps the red, white and black for white and Ranger red and blue.
Nash has really started to find his way with Vigneault and the Rangers, and a strong rest of the season and playoff run could finally help shake the notion that New York is where the talent of hockey stars goes to die.