The stretch to the Olympics is on, and so the controversy
surrounding those who made the teams can begin. Fans of the Ottawa Senators and
New York Islanders were upset at the omission of Bobby Ryan and Kyle Okposo
respectively from team US; Flyers fans were angry that Claude Giroux was left
off the Canadian team, as were the Lightning at their own GM deciding to leave
Martin St. Louis at home. Being left off the team has lit a fire under these
players, as most of them have responded by going on goal scoring tears since
the rosters were announced. The Rangers though have seen a similar spark
ignited under their own Rick Nash.
Nash wasn’t a shoe in to make Team Canada because of his
mediocre start to the year. He wasn’t scoring, and wasn’t even much of an
offensive threat. His experience in international play and Olympic history have
helped earn him a spot on the team. In the nine games since being named to the
team however, he has scored five goals. To put that number in perspective, Nash
only had eight goals in the first 26 games of the season. That is a huge
difference. Maybe being chosen to represent his country while players like St.
Louis and Giroux, and his good buddy Joe Thornton were left off the roster,
gave him a confidence boost. Or made him decide that if guys like this were
left off the roster while he made it that maybe it was time for him to start
playing hockey and prove he belonged on the team. Who knows. What I do know is
that Nash is finally playing the kind of hockey the Ranger fans have hoped he
When Rick Nash plays his best, the team is better. Not only
have Nash’s stats improved since being named to the team, but the entire team’s
has too. The team is 6-2-1 over this same period of time. I refuse to chalk
this up to coincidence, especially since in 4 of those games they scored 4
goals or more, something the team’s anemic offense hasn’t been able to do much
this season. He’s been skating better; creating plays, and is shooting with more
accuracy and confidence. In short, he’s starting to look more like the Rick
Nash the Rangers traded for, not the one who had been playing for the team
through the first half of the season. He still has a ways to go to before I’ll
say that he’s “back”, but he’s starting to move in the right direction.
The team needs him to play like this and to keep up his play.
He is the only true top line player on this team, despite the great recent play
of Mats Zuccarello and Chris Krieder. Players like Zuccs and Krieder are there
for secondary support to Nash, not the other way around. If the three of them
all keep on rolling, the Rangers have more offensive firepower and therefore
have more of a chance of being able to keep winning. The indirect result of
Nash’s play improving is that it will make opposing team’s shut down players
have to split who they’re focusing on; they won’t be able to focus on Nash
while also focusing on Zuccarello and Krieder, especially since all three don’t
play on a line together. In past years, secondary scoring was something the
team lacked. This season they’ve been getting a lot of secondary scoring but
not as much primary scoring. If Nash keeps his play up, the team will have both
for the first time in a long time.
Bottom line is that the Rangers are clearly a better team
when Rick Nash is on his game than they are when he’s not. And as they gear up
for the second half of the season in a very tight conference, and an even
tighter division, there isn’t a better time for Nash to start playing his game.
As fans we can only help that this continues down the line and doesn’t drop off,
as the team very much needs him to consistently produce offensively.
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