We're now two days removed from Rick Nash's hat trick against Roberto Luongo and the Florida Panthers. Prior to Saturday night's salvo of goals Nash had scored only twice in his first 17 games of the season for the New York Rangers. When Nash went without scoring a goal through his first seven games of the 2015-16 and had a modest two assists in the initial 10 games until a three assist outburst on October 30th against the Toronto Maple Leafs there were a lot of Rangers fans reaching for the panic button. How can the Rangers win without Nash scoring?
Last season, in Nash's 42 goal barnstorm, he found the back of the net 12 times in the first 18 games of 2014-15 including six goals in his first four games. Prior to last season Nash had scored 47 goals in his first 109 games in New York. So while his five goals thus far this season aren't anything worth writing home about, we should try not to compare it exclusively to last season's frenzy. Nash started this season cold which is something that happens to plenty of shooters and goal scorers, just as Sidney Crosby.
Even with the hat trick from Saturday night Nash is still shooting below his career average by a significant margin. His worst shooting percentage year was 2011-12, his last year in Columbus, when he shot 9.8% and put up 30 goals in 82 games on 306 shots. This season Nash is shooting 8.8% which is a full 5% lower than what he finished with at the end of last season. You don't need your trusty TI-34 to know that is one less goal for every 20 shots on net. I should also take a moment to point out that Nash shot the lights out to start the 2014-15 season to the tune of six goals on 13 shots in his first four games.
Nash has 57 shots this season 10 of which were picked up against the Panthers two days ago. Per game, he is shooting slightly less than the rate that he had last season when he finished with 304 shots in 79 games. So, Nash isn't shooting quite as much and he's shooting significantly colder than last season. This whole five goals in 18 games thing is starting to make a lot of sense.
Nash Thus far in 2015-16
The hat trick against Florida was about a lot more than Nash scoring three goals that he (and the Rangers) desperately needed. The way he scored his goals was also very significant and a promising sign for the road ahead.
A goal scored in the trenches. Nash's big body was parked right next to the net and when Ryan McDonagh fired a pass down to him Nash used his quick feet and quicker hands to bang home his first goal of the game. It's the kind of goal that Nash's critics want to see oodles of from the big forward. Nash can't be easy to move and given his deft hands and long reach he should be picking up piles of goals from in close. He made no mistake in the first period when he scored his first goal since November 10th against the Carolina Hurricanes.
The power move. Watching Nash use his combination of strength, size, and speed to drop the shoulder and shrug off Nick Bjugstad was beautiful. Violins should have been playing while he did it. Sure, the puck had eyes and seemed to want to get through Roberto Luongo, but how great was it to see Nash use his unique combination of skills to rumble towards the net and snipe one with a defender draped on his back? It was a Rick Nash kind of goal, the kind of goal we've all been starving for, and it was fantastic to see.
The big power play goal. The overtime winner was the first power play goal of Rick Nash's season and his first game winning goal. It is what you can comfortably call a "big goal". As we all (should) know, Nash has never been a big producer on the power play, but the fact that he picked up his first man advantage goal in game 18 is pretty telling for how things have gone for Nash early this season. The shot was perfectly screened by Mats Zuccarello and perfectly ripped by Nash who cruised into a dangerous scoring position with all of the open ice he had to work with. The overtime winner was icing on the cake for a dominant game from Nash which is something that we've all been hungry to see for weeks now. Suddenly, the profanities that sometimes accompany Nash's name when spoken by Rangers fans were complimentary and exuberant expressions of affection and excitement.
For whatever it's worth Nash is on pace to finish with more assists than what he finished last season with. That's not going to do it for you, is it? The assists are nice, but we all know he's here to score goals. So will Saturday night's hat trick get Nash going? With any luck it will help Nash loosen the grip on his stick and play with a little less anxiety. At least for now the pressure is a little less intense for Rick Nash to produce and put pucks in the back of the net. When you aren't shooting 46% like Nash was in the first four games of last season, scoring goals is pretty damn difficult in the NHL and a lot of it is about confidence and what goes on between the ears.
When talking to John Giannone in the second intermission on Saturday night Nash admitted he was doing things that he does when his game is struggling. Perhaps these are things that Nash should be doing all the time, or maybe they were just the things that are in the bottom of his toolbox that he needed to try to get his game going. Will his hat trick open the floodgates and get Nash scoring at a more regular clip? I suppose we'll just have to wait and see.
Thanks for reading. Let's go Rangers.