The New York Rangers offense has struggled mightily this season, and a lot of the team’s troubles finding the back of the net can be attributed to the absence of first-line winger Rick Nash from the lineup due to a concussion.
Nash will return to the Rangers lineup on Tuesday night when his team hosts the surging Boston Bruins, who eliminated New York in five games in the second round of last year’s playoffs and have won five of their last six games.
"I'm excited..kind of controlled emotion...it's been a long 6 weeks...it'll be nice to back in there tonight"-Rick Nash
New York Rangers (@NYRangers) November 19, 2013
"I'm excited..kind of controlled emotion...it's been a long 6 weeks...it'll be nice to back in there tonight"-Rick Nash—
The veteran power forward has missed 17 of the Blueshirts’ 20 games this season and last played on Oct. 8. As a result, the Original Six club ranks 26th in goals scored (2.1/game), 18th in power-play percentage, 27th in first-period goals and 26th in third-period goals. The Rangers have also scored two or fewer goals in 12 games thus far, and without Nash in the lineup, they lack a true sniper capable of finishing scoring chances against the top teams.
Against a Bruins team that leads the NHL with a 1.8 GAA and ranks second with an 87.5 percent success rate on the penalty kill, the Rangers need Nash’s previous success against Boston to continue if they are to climb above .500 with an important victory on Tuesday.
In his last 10 games versus the Bruins, Nash has tallied seven points (three goals, four assists) with a total of 38 shots on goal. A season ago (his first in the Big Apple), Nash tallied an assist in each of his team’s three games against Boston, while also scoring a crucial shootout goal in a 4-3 win at Madison Square Garden.
The Rangers have not been successful against the physical, blue-collar teams this season, and that was evident on Sunday when the Los Angeles Kings and their heavy style of hockey shut down New York’s offense in a 1-0 win. Despite playing a Los Angeles team with backup goalie Ben Scrivens in net and not former Conn Smythe Trophy winner Jonathan Quick, the Rangers were unable to generate much offense and went 0-5 on the power play.
Against a Bruins blue line that has many similarities to the Kings’, the Blueshirts need Nash to use his size, strength and skating ability to open up space for his teammates in the attacking zone and create scoring chances. Nash is one of the elite power forwards in the world, and very few wingers are blessed with his combination of truculence and incredible offensive skill. His return not only boosts the team’s ability to score at even strength, it should also help New York’s power play. Nash finished second on the team with nine points on the man advantage in 2012-13.
For the Rangers to overcome their lack of scoring depth and contend for a playoff spot, Nash must play at a high level on a consistent basis. With nine straight seasons of 20 goals or more and no fear of being in the New York spotlight, there’s no reason to believe he will fail to accomplish this goal.
Follow Nicholas Goss on Twitter here.