Nash leading Rangers' charge since return from injury

Sunday, 03.10.2013 / 12:00 AM
Dave Lozo  - NHL.com Staff Writer

It wasn't that Rick Nash wasn't off to a sensational start with the New York Rangers; it was that he couldn't finish.

When Nash arrived via trade from the Columbus Blue Jackets in the summer, he was touted as the missing piece, the elite scorer that was sorely lacking from a Rangers club that saw its offense vanish during the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs. But through seven games this season, Nash had one goal, and it wasn't exactly a difference-making goal either.

Nash's first goal for the Rangers came in his second game, a shorthanded mini-breakaway beauty. But all it did was turn a 5-2 deficit into a 5-3 hole with 5:15 remaining in a game the Rangers would lose 6-3.

Nash's second goal was far more impactful. It broke a 1-1 tie in the third period against the Tampa Bay Lightning and would've been the game-winner if not for a goal by Steven Stamkos in the final seconds of the Rangers' 3-2 win.

While Nash was making plays and creating scoring opportunities for his linemates, he had two goals in 10 games. But Rangers coach John Tortorella wasn't the least bit worried about his superstar.

"Nasher only has two goals, but we have a pretty comprehensive cheat sheet as far as offensive chances and offensive opportunities. He leads our team in that," Tortorella said Feb. 10. "I think there's more finish to it. Even though he only has two goals, he's been around the puck and been around a lot of our opportunities the first 10 games.

"I think just watching tape, he has made some passes where we'd like him to shoot. He's had some opportunities off the top of the circles and he's tried to make the extra pass. We spend a lot of time breaking it down, as far as where he's been in the offense. He has been all over the sheets. That's one thing. He's been able to have areas to shoot and he's given it up to pass."

Almost as if he was listening to his coach's pregame press conference, Nash scored his third goal of the season that night. It came on his fifth shot with 8.3 seconds remaining in a game that had been long since decided. But it was the genesis of a nine-game point streak Nash will carry into Sunday afternoon's game against the Washington Capitals (12:30 p.m. ET, NBC) at Verizon Center.

Since a four-game absence with an undisclosed injury that was likely a concussion, Nash has been phenomenal. He has six goals and three assists in five games, and since Tortorella talked about having Nash shoot more, he has three games with at least seven shots, including one contest in which he put 12 shots on net.

"Now he's scoring big goals, they're going in for him," Tortorella said after Nash's two-goal performance in a 4-2 win against the Philadelphia Flyers on Wednesday. "He's been pretty important to us."

When Nash missed those four games, the Rangers went 0-3-1. With Nash in the lineup, the Rangers are 12-6-1.

Tortorella has described Nash as the best 1-on-1 player in the League, and the five-time All-Star has provided plenty of evidence to back up that assessment. He's beaten the likes of Victor Hedman of the Lightning and Kimmo Timonen of the Flyers with individual efforts and has routinely moved to the center of the ice with defensemen draped on his back to create scoring chances.

"Anytime I can do that, if I can draw people to me, it opens them up," Nash said. "It's part of my job. It's what I want to do on the ice."

In a season in which Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards have been struggling for the past month -- both have been benched during games for ineffectiveness -- Nash has been the consistent scoring force keeping the Rangers afloat in the first half of the season.

At 6-foot-4, 213 pounds, Nash is impossible to move. With his speed, Nash is impossible to chase. It's taken a while for all of Nash's skills to come to the forefront, but he's starting to remind goaltender Henrik Lundqvist of another legendary wing with size and speed who spent parts of four seasons in New York: likely Hall of Famer Jaromir Jagr.

"It just feels so good to have a player like that on the team," Lundqvist said. "When Jags was at his best here, he was that type of player. Nash is doing things right now that are very impressive to see."

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @Dave Lozo

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