By Sean Hartnett
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Rangers winger Rick Nash has been a man on fire, recording points in 24 of 29 games this season. The Blueshirts rolled through Western Canada by winning three games in four nights, increasing their streak to a season-high four consecutive wins.
Nash continued his hot play by torching the hosting Calgary Flames at the Scotiabank Saddledome on Tuesday night. The 30-year-old winger scored twice in the Rangers’ 5-2 victory, extending his career-best point streak to 11 games.
New York has won eight games during Nash’s streak. He has scored eight goals and recorded six assists over the 11-game span. He owns the longest active streak in the league and has tied Pittsburgh Penguins center Evgeni Malkin for the longest streak of the season.
With 20 goals, Nash trails only Dallas Stars center Tyler Seguin for the league lead. Seguin has lit the lamp 23 times this season. Although Seguin has collected a league-high 38 points, no NHL forward has been more dominant than Nash this season.
The 6-foot-4 winger’s influential two-way play has made him a standout candidate in the Hart Trophy race. He is owning all areas of the ice on a nightly basis. Nash has recorded 28 takeaways and 24 hits through 29 games. He’s been an outstanding penalty killer and a constant shorthanded goal threat, quickly transitioning from defense to offense. His three shorthanded goals ranks second-best in the NHL.
“One of Nash’s best attributes I feel is that he competes hard at both ends of the rink,” head coach Alain Vigneault said earlier this season. “A lot of times he’s our first forward back and really helping out our defense. He’s done that since I’ve been here, not just this year. He’s obviously contributing with big goals at the right time.”
Both Seguin and Nash are among a deep pool of candidates capable of capturing the Hart Trophy. Also in the mix: Nashville Predators goalie Pekka Rinne, St. Louis Blues winger Vladimir Tarasenko, Calgary Flames defenseman Mark Giordano, Anaheim Ducks center Ryan Getzlaf, Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos, Islanders center John Tavares, Toronto Maple Leafs winger Phil Kessel, Penguins forwards Malkin and Sidney Crosby and Philadelphia Flyers duo Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek.
As things stand, Rinne’s case is the most compelling. Rinne is leading three major goalie categories: he has 20 wins, the strongest goals-against average at 1.76 and the best save percentage at .9372. No one expected the Predators to push the Blackhawks and Blues in the race for the Central Division.
NO. 61 ON PACE TO BREAK JAGR’S FRANCHISE RECORD FOR SINGLE-SEASON GOALS
Nash has scored 20 goals and collected 13 assists for 33 points through 29 games. He is currently on-pace to finish the season with 57 goals, 37 assists and 94 points. The last Ranger to record a 90-point season was Jaromir Jagr during the 2006-07 season. Jagr finished that season with 96 points.
If Nash can keep up the pace, he has a shot at setting a new franchise record for goals scored in a single season. Jagr holds the franchise record, having scored 54 goals in the 2005-06 season. Only Jagr, Adam Graves and Vic Hadfield have tallied 50-goal seasons while members of the Rangers.
This is Nash’s 11th consecutive year with at least 20 goals. He is the only player in the league with an active streak of 11 straight 20-goal seasons. He’s only missed the mark once in 12 seasons, scoring 17 goals when he was a rookie.
It’s been a truly amazing return to form for No. 61. Last playoffs, Nash’s shot percentage fell to 3.6 percent. He looked like he was fighting it throughout. You could tell by his body language that his confidence had evaporated. His struggles were apparent during the 2014 Stanley Cup Final. Nash did not register a point during the series and was a minus-3.
“It was a struggle, it’s frustrating,” Nash said on breakup day in June. “I wish I could have produced a lot more. I didn’t get the job done. It was probably one of the most frustrating times in my career during this playoff stretch – not being able to produce.”
This season, Nash has carried himself with an assured confidence. He’s shooting at 19.8 percent and leading the way for the Rangers. Longtime teammate Derick Brassard noticed a different mentality from Nash at the start of training camp.
“I’ve known him for a long time and as soon as I saw him in the first practice, I knew he meant business,” Brassard said in October.
Nash means business. So do the Rangers. New York will look to continue their resurgent play this weekend in a home-and-home against the Carolina Hurricanes. The Rangers will visit the Canes on Saturday night before entertaining Carolina at MSG on Sunday night.
Follow Sean on Twitter – @HartnettHockey.
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