Wednesday night, the New York Rangers dropped their third straight game against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference Semifinals series. For the third straight game, the Broadway Blueshirts’ offense seemed anemic, as Pittsburgh goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury had another easy night, facing less than 20 shots on net. Down 3-1 in the series, it seems unlikely that the New York Rangers will move onto the next round, and if they do not, the blame falls squarely at the skates of Rick Nash.
Rick Nash was drafted by the Columbus Blue Jackets with the first overall pick in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft. His combination of size, speed, and potential scoring ability left many general managers gnawing at the bit for the chance to draft him. After years of leading mediocre Blue Jacket teams in scoring, Columbus decided to move in a different direction and traded Nash to New York. The hope for the Rangers was that Nash would mesh well with the many other star players New York had on their roster, surpassing the 60 point average he acquired his last few years in Columbus.
For one year, at least, their hopes were realized. Nash put up 42 points in 44 games during the lockout-shortened season in 2012-2013, second on the Rangers’ roster in scoring. When that year’s playoff season rolled around, however, Nash’s offense dried up, contributing only one goal and four assists in 12 games. There was optimism that it was simply a fluke, nothing more than a short dry spell at the wrong time for the highly paid forward. Unfortunately for Rangers fans, that playoff performance was just the start of something no one could see coming.
In the regular season, Nash contributed only 39 points 65 games and his performance in the playoffs has been even worse. He has not scored a goal in the 11 games the Rangers have played, and worse yet, he is starting to become a liability on the ice. Midway through the second period in Game Four, Nash had a chance to break the tie as he found himself a part of a two-on-one. He opted for the shot rather than a pass, missing the net entirely. Minutes later, on the Rangers powerplay, Nash turned over the puck on the blueline, springing Pittsburgh forward Brian Gibbons on a breakaway. Gibbons would be stopped by Henrik Lundqvist, but Brandon Sutter would follow-up on the shot, scoring a back-breaking shorthanded goal late in the period to put the Penguins up by one.
For the $7.6 million the Rangers are paying Nash, he needs to be better. He is getting chances, but that is all they are. At the end of the day, the team needs these chances to start showing up on the scoresheet. The team offense has completely dried up, producing only 15 shots in Game Four, and Nash’s production (or lack thereof) is a big part of that. Nash has now played in 27 playoff games in his career, but only has two playoff goals to his name. For a guy that was drafted to be a goalscorer, and a proficient one, that is simply unacceptable.
Nash may be the biggest reason why the Rangers find themselves in the a 3-1 series deficit, but he is not the only reason. New York head coach Alan Vigneault is getting outcoached by his opposite behind the Pittsburgh bench. In Game Four, Dan Bylsma put Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Chris Kunitz on the same line, and they wreaked havoc on the Rangers’ lineup all night. New York had 15 shots on goal as a team, but Evgeni Malkin attempted 14 shots…by himself. Adjustments need to be made if New York wants to get back into the series, starting with the enigmatic Rick Nash. If the New York Rangers do fail to overcome this series deficit and fall to the Penguins, it will not be long before Nash finds himself amidst trade rumors, with New York begging any team to take him off their hands.
Commentary by Jonathan Gardner