There is something different about the New York Rangers' top power forward these days, and his recent upswing has been a welcome sight for the franchise. Rick Nash is a player that has the gift of speed, skill and size, but one of the biggest knocks on his game has been his unwillingness to use the latter.
Nash had a terrible stretch of play heading into the Sochi Olympics, and after a lackluster performance for Canada, it is fair to say that fans were worried about what would happen when he returned to the Rangers.
The Blueshirts have a record of 7-3-0 in their last 10, including five wins in a row, and Nash's upswing has played a huge role in the team's success.
The genesis of Nash's upswing started against the Columbus Blue Jackets in Columbus on March 21. The Rangers were fresh off a very erratic 8-4 victory over the Ottawa Senators, and they entered the third period against Columbus with a scoreless tie.
After jostling with Matt Calvert off the faceoff, Nash dropped the gloves. The decision went Nash's way, and for the first time in a long time, he looked fired up. Those who know Nash understand he is a quiet and reserved player off the ice, but he has the potential to throw his weight around on the ice.
He stands 6'4" and weighs 219 pounds, so it was nice to see Nash get physical and aggressive for a change. The Rangers would win the game, 3-1, and goaltender Henrik Lundqvist credited Nash's fight as something that fired the team up.
What grade would you assign to Nash based on his play this season?
Via Pat Leonard of the New York Daily News, Lundqvist said, “I got really fired up. I got mad,” Henrik Lundqvist (25 saves) said of seeing Nash throw down. “I’m like, ‘We’re beating this team now. There’s no way we’re losing."
Nash is the Rangers' top goal scorer this season, and it was rare to see him drop the gloves. It was only the eighth fight of his career, according to hockeyfights.com, and the rarity of the fight is what sparked the team.
There are a lot of theories when it comes to the effect a fight can have on the outcome of a game, and I think this is a case where the fight had some impact. If a player is sitting on the bench and sees the team's top goal scorer drop the gloves, odds are he is going to get fired up and kick it into a higher gear.
Since that point, the Rangers have not lost a game, and Nash has continued to have an impact offensively. The Rangers have played in 15 games since returning from the Olympics, and Nash has eight points.
He has also played strong defensively, and Alain Vigneault has used him on the penalty kill. Adding Nash to the penalty kill has not only bolstered the unit defensively, but it has added an element of offense.
That strategy has worked out great, and Nash even scored a short-handed goal against the Senators on March 18.
Right now the Rangers are clicking like they did prior to the Olympic break, and things are looking good. The team has been very successful, and the play of Nash in all three zones have certainly paid huge dividends.
On the season, Nash has played in 57 games, and he has scored 23 goals and added 12 assists for 35 points. Extrapolated over a full season, Nash would be on pace to score 33 goals.
That is what the Rangers expected when they traded for him. Nash may never be a point-per-game player with the Blueshirts, because he is more of a goal scorer than passer. That is why his career point totals have been generally low, because he lacks in the assists department.
Overall, Nash has had a decent season when you consider he has overcome injuries. He could be better, and he could be worse, but his current play both offensively and defensively are sufficient.
This is the type of play the Blueshirts will need if they want to be successful in the Stanley Cup playoffs, and Nash certainly will be looking to put last year's poor performance in the rear-view mirror.
Stats via NHL.com.