‘Rangers Inside And Out’
By Sean Hartnett
» More Columns
Rick Nash has played like a force of nature of late. The Rangers’ 6-foot-4 winger has been scoring vital goals and using his natural strength and athleticism to dominate opponents, much to the delight of the Blueshirts’ faithful.
Earlier this season, fans were split over whether Nash was truly worth the price of a first-round pick, Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov and prospect Tim Erixon. It was a fair question given that Nash was suffering a dip in production as the Blueshirts were sputtering to start the season.
Some accused Nash of lacking a mean streak. That perception may have been aided by his laid-back, soft-spoken nature off the ice.
Thirty-five points in 55 games isn’t the kind of production expected of Nash, but of late he’s hit all the right notes. The unjust perception that Nash was soft and passive has been replaced by feelings that Nash is capable of leading the Rangers to great heights.
On the ice, Nash is all business. Teammates know what he’s about. He might not always drop the gloves like he did in Friday’s emotional return to Nationwide Arena in Columbus, but Nash has always been a team-first player who believes he can excel in any situation.
“I like playing under AV,” Nash said of head coach Alain Vigneault. “He’s a great coach. He has good systems. I think my game can adjust to real, defensive-minded coaches like Torts, Hitchcock and Dave King. So, I find my game can adjust to any situation.”
Anton Stralman spent two seasons with Nash in Columbus and has been his teammate in each of his first two seasons in New York. Even though Stralman has watched Nash for years, he said he’s amazed by his recent play.
“It’s good to see how much of a force he fan be,” Stralman said. “Not just with the puck, but also off the puck. He’s finishing hits and being more of a force out there. He’s a big, strong dude.”
Teammate Brian Boyle said he considers Nash worthy of fitting into the bracket of “world class.”
“He’s done it every year he’s been here and for a number of years in the league,” Boyle said. “He’s always impressed me, for sure. He’s got a lot of different things that he can do well. Obviously, he’s going to score big goals and play well. He’s been on the big stage, he’s won a couple of gold medals. He’s one of our leaders, so we’re going to need him.”
Nash and fellow Ontario native Cam Talbot have a close bond off the ice.
“We live close to each other and are right around the same age,” Nash said. “He’s kind of a low-maintenance guy like myself. We’re happy to be Rangers every day. It really makes it that much more fun. Growing up in Toronto, you understand how big of a deal hockey is in Canada and Toronto. Coming to New York, you can really tell that it’s Original Six and the fans are passionate.”
Nash’s renaissance has come at a crucial point of season as the Rangers are locked in a dogfight with the Philadelphia Flyers and Blue Jackets in the Metropolitan Division.
BRASSARD: ‘EVERY GAME IS A BATTLE’
No one is catching the first-place, 97-point Pittsburgh Penguins. That leaves three teams fighting for the two remaining automatic playoff spots. The Rangers do not want to be the team that falls into the uncertainty of the wild card race.
Ahead of Monday night’s meeting with the Phoenix Coyotes at MSG, center Derick Brassard said he loves the thrill of playing in big game.
“Every game is a lot more intense that the middle of the season or the beginning of the season,” Brassard said. “Every game is a battle. That’s why we like to play those kind of games. It’s great. I expect a great atmosphere tonight. We need those two points really badly.”
ST. LOUIS, STEPAN, J. MOORE MISS PRACTICE
Vigneault confirmed after Monday’s practice that Martin St. Louis and Derek Stepan have been battling the flu and would be re-evaluated later in the day.
Derek Dorsett has been contending with the flu for days. He missed Saturday’s game in New Jersey. Vigneault also pegged Dorsett as a game-time decision. Dorsett said that he’s physically ready to play.
“Yesterday, it still felt a little off,” Dorsett said. “Today, I feel a lot better. I think it’s one of those things that gets better with time. I should be good to go tonight.”
Defenseman John Moore also missed practice due to concussion symptoms. Vigneault said that Moore is getting better and following standard protocol.
“He felt much better today,” Vigneault said. “He’s going to follow the concussion protocol. I think he rode the bike a little bit today.”
DIAZ GETTING COMFORTABLE WITH ROLES
Raphael Diaz will remain in the lineup as Moore’s replacement. He’s still getting used to the bright lights of New York, but said he is very comfortable with his new teammates.
The only teammate he knew previously was Carl Hagelin, as the two shared a brief experience together as rookies at the NHL SuperSkills competition at the 2012 All-Star Game in Ottawa.
He said his new teammates have made an effort to make him feel like “one of the guys” right away.
“When I got traded, they took me out to dinner right away,” Diaz said. “I was part of the team right away. You feel really comfortable and one of the guys right away. It’s makes it really easy for a new guy. Great teammates and a very funny group too.”
Vigneault has used Diaz at the point on the power play. It’s nothing knew for Diaz, as he performed the role in Montreal.
“I feel comfortable,” Diaz said. “Last year, I played a few games after the lockout on the point in Montreal. I feel really good. A lot of really skilled guys. Marty on the side makes unbelievable plays. I remember two times he put it in the middle and it was such a nice pass. I think they move the puck around really well. That’s the key, move the puck quick, then the box needs time to set at the right spot. This is important. All of those guys, you play against them and you see highlights on TV. You know they’re really skilled. It’s nice to play with them and learn some things as well. Like how quiet and clam they are with the puck. This is the biggest thing, to calm down with the puck and have a good setup.”
Follow Sean on Twitter at @HartnettHockey
You May Also Be Interested In These Stories