NEWARK -- While the effort and opportunities are undeniably present for New York Rangers forward Rick Nash, the results remain few and far between.
The frustration on the face of Nash following his team's 3-1 loss to the rival New Jersey Devils on Tuesday before 17,625 at Prudential Center told the story.
There were signs that, perhaps, the 28-year-old wing was about to break out of his scoring slump after connecting for his second goal of the season on Saturday in a victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning. Instead, Nash finished with a season-low minus-2 rating and had all three of his shots turned away by Devils goalie Martin Brodeur.
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Adding insult to injury was the fact the Rangers were powerless with the man advantage, finishing the game 0-for-5 on the power play.
"I tell you what … we have some guys who are really playing hard and we have some guys that look scared and tentative," Rangers coach John Tortorella said. "There's no sense in running through it with you guys [in the media]. The power play has been a struggle, and it hurt us again. I liked a lot of things about our 5-on-5 play, but [Tuesday] was all about special teams."
Nash, who carries a $7.8 million cap hit over the next six years, was believed by many to be the missing piece to the Rangers’ puzzle entering the 2012-13 campaign when the Blueshirts acquired his services from the Columbus Blue Jackets in the offseason for three players and a 2013 first-round draft pick.
Nash, a five-time All-Star and the former captain of the Blue Jackets, has two goals and seven points in nine games this season with his new club. He admits feeling a bit snake-bitten.
"Yeah, I do," Nash said. "I had a good attempt in the first [period] that I stopped myself when it hit my arm as I was going in. Then I missed a wide open net cutting in [early in the second]. So they're not going in right now, but the opportunities are there. I just have to make sure I stick with it."
Nash's struggles at the start of the season with his new team are eerily similar to those of Ilya Kovalchuk when he was dealt by the Atlanta Thrashers to the Devils on Feb. 4, 2010. Kovalchuk actually had three goals and eight points over his first nine games with New Jersey following the trade.
"We made two mistakes and sometimes, in games like these, you need your power play to step up," Rangers forward Brad Richards said. "If it does, then we wouldn't be talking about this right now. Our 5-on-5 play wasn't as bad as some of the other efforts we've had this year, but we need to generate more with the man advantage, obviously."
Nash agreed with his linemate.
"We're not getting those prime opportunities; we're not coming up with enough speed and not winning puck battles," Nash said. "Just when it seems our power play is getting better, you have games like this. You need your special teams to come through in games such as this … our power play needs to be better."
The eight-year, $62.4 million deal Nash signed with the Blue Jackets in 2010 made him the highest-paid player on the Rangers roster, ahead of Marian Gaborik ($7.5 million), Richards ($6.66 million) and goalie Henrik Lundqvist ($6.875 million).
Against New Jersey, Nash opened the game on a line with Richards and Gaborik and was on the ice for both New Jersey goals. He just missed giving the Rangers an early lead 4:25 into the first when he skated hard down his left wing before toppling over Brodeur, who had sprawled out to stop his attempt. Nash' momentum knocked the cage off its moorings before the puck crossed the goal line.
"I had a good attempt in the first [period] that I stopped myself when it hit my arm as I was going in. Then I missed a wide open net cutting in [early in the second]. So they're not going in right now, but the opportunities are there. I just have to make sure I stick with it." -- Rangers forward Rick Nash
"I saw the puck slide right under my arm and knew the net was knocked off … I knew what happened," Nash said. "If it went in a second earlier it would have been a goal."
In an effort to jump-start his struggling offense, Tortorella even inserted Nash on a line with Derek Stepan and Gaborik at one point in the second period.
"We had a goose egg on the board, so you have to try something," Richards said. "We're getting zone time, but not getting quality chance. We weren't scoring, so that's what happens."
Nash had another golden opportunity 16 seconds into the second when he weaved his way behind Brodeur to the left post before directing a shot that skittered harmlessly through the crease off the shaft of his stick.
"That was a tough one," Nash said. "It was right there and when I looked down it wasn't. I thought it was behind me, and looked behind me, and it wasn't there either. It's just an unlucky play that I got to have."
Nash also generated a few positive plays over the final 20 minutes. In particular with 7:28 remaining and his team trailing, 3-1, when he stormed down his left wing and skated into the circle in the Devils’ end before feathering a pass to Carl Hagelin barreling down the slot. The delivery was perfectly timed, but Brodeur was equal to the task.