In somewhat shocking news, Rick Nash injured the other side of his groin in the Rangers’ 3-2 shootout win over the Devils Sunday. There is no timetable for a return, and the severity of the injury is unknown. This injury happens to be a constant reminder to stretch out your groin, as covered on a Monday night episode of Bantering The Blueshirts last night. Beth was kind of drunk and we got to talking about groins, hot hands and other things that might have been more hockey related. Go listen.
We did spend a good amount of time talking about the Nash injury, which once again throws the Rangers’ offense into a bit of a loop. The logical guess is that Brandon Pirri re-enters the lineup tonight against Pittsburgh if Nash can’t go, but that still doesn’t change the fact the Rangers’ offense hasn’t been what we’ve seen before even with Nash in the lineup.
Against the Devils we got a tantalizing look at what Nash brings to the table every night. On three separate occasions Nash drove into the zone, then lowered his shoulder and crashed the net. All three could have been goals and yet all three weren’t.
It reminded us just how few Rangers actually crash the net, once we had the time to pull our jaws off the floor. Jimmy Vesey crashes the net when he’s actually allowed to play, J.T. Miller does it more often than not and sometimes Kevin Hayes pulls the puck towards the crease, too. Right now, that’s about it. Especially with Mika Zibanejad and Pavel Buchnevich hurt.
So what happens now that Nash is gone?
Pirri’s addition should help the offense in theory, but he’s still missing the net too much and passing up good shots. Michael Grabner has, predictably, cooled down, too which doesn’t help. Miller and Hayes are creating a lot but have had some issues finishing of late. Nick Holden continues to be a surprising well of offense at times, but the Rangers lack of a true power play quarterback has been an issues that’s risen an fallen in terms of overall alarm.
Without that net-crashing presence, though, the Rangers do fall into a more predictable offensive formation. They hang to the outside more, rely on perfect passes to move the goalie and need more shots from the likes of Mats Zuccarello and Derek Stepan. There’s worse players to rely on, but Nash continues to prove just how valuable he’s been to all sides of the ice for the Rangers.
He’s a true three-zone star, a rarity when it comes to elite goal scorers. Yes, Nash’s offensive totals haven’t been what some fans expected — but those are the same fans who don’t think Henrik Lundqvist is as good as Antti Raanta. The crabs, in other words.
Nash has done so much work for this team in terms of both offense and overall possession that you might even forget how much of a neutral zone monster he’s been for the team — putting out fires before they can escalate to true scoring chances. He’s the “does all the little things right” people heaped on Chris Drury while also doing the big things right. And yet he still doesn’t get the respect he deserves.
With Zibanejad and Buchnevich still out, the Rangers are quite literally missing their top line of offense and potentially three of their top six two-way forwards. It’s an enormous hole that can’t be filled with the likes of Pirri, Marek Hrivik or Matt Puempel — which shouldn’t be taken as an insult to any of them.
Tonight will be a big test for the Rangers, especially with Pittsburgh looming. Missing three of your top players doesn’t help.
Especially when one of them could be your best forward in all three zones.