Skating to Expectation
The New York Rangers have been one of the hottest teams in the NHL lately. Over their last ten games they are 7-2-1 and are the winners of three in a row after a 4-1 victory over the Washington Capitals Sunday night. As a result of their recent winning, they find themselves second in the Metropolitan Division.
There are many reasons for the Rangers’ recent success. One might look to the power play, which now finds itself top ten in the league after being one of the worst and most anemic in the league for a number of years. It could be that the team has finally adjusted to the offensive style that first-year head coach Alain Vigneault wants them to play and are thriving under it. Or perhaps its’ Henrik Lundqvist returning to form as one of the best goaltenders in the NHL to compliment rookie Cam Talbot’s sensational play between the pipes. But for me, it’s been the improved play of Rick Nash over the last few games.
When the Rangers traded away Brandon Dubisnky, Artem Anisimov and Tim Erixon for Nash, they thought they would be getting the 35-40 goal a year player that played on the Blue Jackets, finally getting the top line, top scorer their team was lacking. In his first season with the team Nash scored 21 goals in 44 games, which put him on pace to score his career average per year. Not only that, Nash would score very opportune goals, often game tying and late in the third period. This made Ranger fans believe they finally found the prolific goal scorer of their future that would consistently light the lamp for them in big moments.
This season, however, Nash wasn’t even near the top of the team in scoring two weeks ago. He wasn’t even in double digits. Granted, he missed a handful of games with a concussion early in the season, but even when he was healthy, Nash just didn’t seem like he was able to perform the way he did last year for the Rangers. He seemed hesitant to shoot the puck, would constantly miss big chances to score that he would have easily capitalized on a year ago, and overall just seemed off. Luckily for him, and the Rangers, the last few games have been great for the Canadian. In his last five games Nash has four goals, and now finds himself as the leading goal scorer on the team. More important than that, as a result of his recent success, Nash looks much more confident on the ice which has made his decisions smarter and his shot all the more powerful.
This is a great sign for the Rangers, who are in the middle of a tight race in the Metropolitan Division. The team may be top ten in the special teams categories this year (seventh in power play and ninth in penalty kill), but found themselves with one of the worst goals for/goals against ratios in the league. In the last few weeks, however, they have improved their even strength play to 0.90 GF/GA (9 goals for every 10 against). If the Rangers want to succeed this season and in the playoffs, if they make it that is, they are going to need to play better even strength hockey. And the best way to get better on even strength is when your most talented players are putting the puck in the net. For the Rangers, that’s Nash.
When on his game, Nash is one of the most dangerous players in the NHL with the puck. If he finds his scoring ability consistently he will not only make himself better, but everyone around him. Players like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Steven Stamkos and Patrick Kane strike fear in defenses whenever they step foot on the ice, making teams pay special attention to them, leaving their line mates more scoring opportunities. If Nash starts to score on a regular basis again like he did with Columbus, defenses will key on him as opposed to his other linemen. But with the way Chris Kreider is playing this year, one of Nash’s line members along with Derek Stepan, it will be very tough for a team to focus all their attention on just Nash.
The success of Rick Nash was always going to be critical for the Rangers success even when they first signed him, and that’s becoming evident the more he plays. When he is scoring, it seems the entire team does better offensively, but when he isn’t playing well, the team often follows his lead. This is not to say the team can’t win without Nash scoring, but it certainly makes it easier when #61 is doing ridiculous dekes and firing quick-wristers and fast slap shots that are going in the back of the net.