NEW YORK -- Even when he struggled early this season, scoring seven goals in his first 26 games and missing 17 additional games with a concussion, Rick Nash figured he'd eventually start lighting the lamp again. But it's the presence of one of the New York Rangers' bright young stars that is helping the five-time All-Star through a scoring stretch that is among the best of his impressive career.
"I think the only change from watching video clips is I'm playing on the inside more," Nash said after scoring two goals in a 4-1 win against the Washington Capitals at Madison Square Garden on Sunday. "I could sense when I first came back [from injury] I was on the outside a lot. I think now I'm trying to get to the inside and make things happen."
With seven goals in his past eight games, that space inside is enabled in part by the presence of linemate Chris Kreider.
Kreider has only assisted on three of Nash's seven goals over the past two weeks. In fact, the Rangers' rookie has four points over those eight games and none in his past four. But those statistics don't begin to tell the whole story. Kreider's size (6-foot-3, 226 pounds) and speed have made life a lot easier for Nash and center Derek Stepan, who has also gotten hot with four points in his past two games.
"He [Kreider] backs off the D-man. They have to respect his speed now," Nash said. "It opens up more ice for me and Step. He's one of the main reasons why we're having success now."
After skating alongside numerous linemates since arriving in New York following a trade with the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2012, Nash may have found the perfect partner in the 22-year-old Kreider, who has come into his own this season with 12 goals and 27 points in 44 games. The resulting confidence the Rangers' new top line has demonstrated is undeniable.
"He's got confidence, you can tell that. The way he's hanging on to pucks in the offensive zone," Rangers captain Ryan Callahan said. "He's such a big body out there, when he grabs it he controls the game."
For years, the Rangers have been led by No. 1 goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, an Olympic champion who has established himself as the face of the franchise over the past eight years. But with two speedy linemates by his side, Nash looks to be emerging into the franchise scorer the Rangers knew they were getting when they acquired him from Columbus.
"I think there's an expectation from Rick and that group that he's going to find a way to contribute and get on that score sheet just like there's an expectation from our group that [Lundqvist] is going to stop the puck and give us a chance to win," New York coach Alain Vigneault said. "Those players are elite players and difference-makers. They need to find a way to make a difference in a positive way. That's what those guys are doing right now."
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