As always Elliotte Friedman's 30 Thoughts column is one of the best nuggets of information out there for an NHL fan. This week's set of thoughts contained a few notes about the Rangers; one about Henrik Lundqvist's dominant October numbers, a note about Dan Boyle and another about Rick Nash.
The work on Nash was specifically intriguing, especially since Nash (and his one-goal in 11 games) has turned into such a hot-button for fans. From his story (I'm only quoting the Nash stuff, give him the clicks for the rest):
Does Vigneault ever pull Nash aside when he's having a rough drought? "Very rarely. (Associate coach) Scott Arniel went through a 10-minute package of his shifts (last Thursday). He talked to Nash about going on the inside, changing the angle of his shots. He's still got the most scoring chances, his game at both ends is real strong. Sometimes, you go cold. But he's not one of the guys we are worried about, he and (Chris) Kreider are getting looks."
The bold emphasis is my own here, but it's something I'm really glad the coaching staff is recognizing as they take a look at how to get the offense going.
The typical argument against Nash is "he's here to score goals" so when he isn't scoring goals he's looked at as a failure to live up to his enormous cap hit. But that's not fair. I have argued many times Nash is here to provide offense as much as scoring goals. Assists come from goals. They don't hand them out and they're both worth the same thing on the scoreboard.
As an example: Nash didn't score a goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Friday, but was an integral part of all three Rangers goals. To the clips!
This is Nash's pass to Brassard on the first goal. Nash starts this play by lugging the puck into the zone with possession, getting the puck in the corner and then drawing three defenders before moving the puck to Derick Brassard. Nash passes the puck along the green dotted line, and notice how he pulled the three Toronto defenders into the triangle of death (as I'm now going to call it). The biggest part of this play is him moving the puck into space (Brassard meets the puck in motion) while giving Mats Zuccarello (circled in green as well) room to move into the opening where he eventually scored.
No, Nash did not score this goal. But this goal doesn't happen without Nash's pass to Brassard and ability to lug the puck into the zone with possession.
This is the second goal:
This play starts with Nash getting the puck in the defensive zone (again). Nash, with two men on him, notices Dion Phaneuf is not at all prepared for a quick outlet, and moves the puck off the wall with a perfect bank pass to Brassard.
This slide is just to show you how great of a pass it was by Nash. He effectively springs Brassard and Zuccarello into space, and the duo combine for a perfect 2-on-1 goal. Notice again how Nash's play A) started the play, B) relegated the Toronto defenders into the triangle of death. I think I'm on to something there.
This is the third goal. Obligatory note about how it was an empty net goal. Blah.
Nash intercepts (an admittedly weak) pass here and immediately moves the puck to Zuccarello. This isn't a hard play, but a lot of times a player will try to do too much with the puck here and turn it over. Nash has no idea the three Toronto players behind him aren't right on top of him and he instinctively moves the puck to Zuccarello to clear the zone. Simple, smart hockey that gets the job done.
I believe we've already gone over the fact that the Rangers keep their own internal metrics. I do not have access to those, but I do have access to War-On-Ice which shows Nash is third on the Rangers (and tops among all forwards on the Rangers) with a +16 scoring chance differential. Chris Kreider (since he's mentioned above) comes in at a +7.
I have always maintained you begin to worry about a player when they're not getting chances and making things happen. Nash has been criminally unlucky.
His career shooting percentage is a 12.4. This year he's sporting a 3.0 even. Do you really think that's going to last? If he shot at his career numbers he'd have roughly four goals right now. That's a projected figure, and still low, but it would increase his totals to eight points in 11 games and people probably wouldn't be as worried about him.
Basically, give him time and space. He will figure it out. Actually, there's not really much for him to figure out. He's got it all going for him now except the finish/luck aspect of the game. When he regresses -- and he will -- this will all be forgotten about.