What Is Wrong With Rick Nash?
Rick Nash has struggled to produce points in the last month. What factors are contributing to that, and will things turn around for him?
Rick Nash, who has had an unbelievable 2014-2015 campaign, is enduring a slump now. Understandably, it's brought up some voices of concern. Memories of last season inevitably surface, and the Rangers are going to have a tough time winning the Stanley Cup without their best forward (by a significant margin) contributing on offense. Thus, people might feel a bit jumpy.
But instead of running around like a group of Chicken Littles, let's see what the reasons might be for Nash's underwhelming two goals and three assists in his last 14 games and how it might be corrected.
Hockey is Inherently Streaky
There are things that can be done differently, but before we dive into those one must understand that hockey involves a lot of random chance and random streaks. As bad as five points in 14 games looks, Nash had nine goals and six assists in the 11 games prior. That hot streak is equally as unsustainable as this current slump. The point being that Nash's 18% shooting percentage and the Rangers' 14.29% 5v5 shooting percentage with him on the ice during the hot streak was just as unsustainable as his the current 2.99% and the Rangers' 4.17% during this slump; Rick Nash is a career 12.6% shooter and most NHL teams hover between 7% and 9% over a full season.
And this is hardly unique to Rick Nash, as much as some want to believe otherwise. Alex Ovechkin had a span in which he scored just three goals in 14 games this season. Sidney Crosby had a slump of just two goals in 20 games. Evgeni Malkin had a period of two goals in 12 games. Steven Stamkos had one of four goals in 17 games. The era of guys like Mike Bossy and and Wayne Gretzky scoring scoring almost every game is long gone.
The analogy I always make with shooting percentage is to blackjack. Sometimes you get a few bad hands and win because the dealer busts. Then you could lose three hands in a row in which you hold a 19 because the dealer flipped two blackjacks and a 20. And that stinks. But it doesn't mean you're doing something wrong; it just means you have had bad luck. And a 19 should start winning you some hands in the near future. Essentially, Rick Nash and/or the Rangers could change absolutely nothing and his production is inevitably going to pick up. His and his linemates' shooting percentages during this slump are absurdly low. That's vey unlikely to sustain.
Just because Nash's production will pick up organically doesn't mean that the Rangers are optimization his usage. The Martin St. Louis injury forced Alain Vigneault to start swapping pieces around in the lineup. Rick Nash landed on a line with Derek Stepan and Chris Kreider. It has not worked out at all. Over this 14-game slump for Nash, that line has combined for just one goal and has been out-attempted 71-to-35; or a putrid Corsi % of 33.0%, according to Puckalytics. It's awfully difficult to generate offense when you're spending twice as much time in the defensive zone as the offensive zone.
When that trio has not been together, though? Rick Nash has an insane 57.4% Corsi in around 300 minutes during this 14-game slump. Vigneault might want to reunited Nash with Brassard and Zuccarello, since that line has been trouble for the NHL the length of the season. Granted, though, that J.T. Miller has slotted in perfectly well on that line.
My move, personally, would be to swap Hayes and Stepan. Hayes has outperformed Stepan recently and deserves that promotion anyway. As far as Nash is concerned, though, Hayes might be able to take up some space and alleviate some pressure for Nash. At a minimum he'll at least help get the puck into the offensive zone; something that's not happening for this current line.
As much as Nash's recent struggles hinge upon factors out of his control, he does have to own it to some extent. Despite his calm demeanor and business-like attitude, I think Nash gets too emotionally affected by his actual play. When he's scoring, his confidence is sky-high, and when he's not, he starts overthinking plays and forcing shots that aren't there or tries stickhandling through three players at the end of a shift.
The Rangers are a good team, and it's why they're 11-3-1 since February 22nd despite his struggles. He needs to trust his own ability and that, by doing the things he was earlier in the season - making plays off the transition, taking shots when he had them, and using his body in the slot - the bounces will start coming for him. The less he thinks about it, the quicker he'll be back to racking up the points.
Slumps happen to everybody. Rick Nash is not unique in that regard. The onus is on him to not let the slump itself, as well as the resulting pressure from fans and media, affect his mood or how he plays the game. Alain Vigneault could certainly help him - and probably Stepan and Kreider in the process - by moving the lines around. It's not as if everyone else was doing great things against Los Angeles. Ultimately, though, let's recognize that the universe will correct itself to a big extent. A few tweaks plus an inevitable rise of the Rangers' shooting percentage with him on the ice should be enough to get Nash firing on all engines once again. And this slump will be long forgotten.