Howard Simmons/New York Daily News
Rick Nash moves to the front of the net in the hopes he’ll regain his scoring touch.
Rick Nash is paid a team-high $ 7.8 million per season to be front and center in the Rangers’ offense, so that’s exactly where Alain Vigneault put his slumping forward for Friday night’s rivalry match against the visiting Islanders.
The coach moved Nash – who entered the battle of two stumbling franchises with one goal in his last six games – to the front of Evgeni Nabokov’s net on the Rangers’ top power play unit to get him more involved and to send a message.
“He’s a power forward,” Vigneault said Friday morning at the Garden. “He’s got to go to the net. Those guys, they get their chances in there, they get their production by going to those tough areas. He’s been going there. He’s really close. It’s just a matter of staying with it.”
Vigneault also took the unorthodox approach of starting Nash, Carl Hagelin and Benoit Pouliot on the wings opposite their normal positions, including Nash’s slot to the left of center Derek Stepan and Mats Zuccarello. Zuccarello moved up to the top power play in the middle of New York’s 1-3-1 scheme to take advantage of the Norwegian’s playmaking ability.
Nash said his move to the front of the net is intended to “get me on the puck a little bit more and use that low option (on the power play) a bit more.” Lately, he has seemed to struggle finding the puck in his skates and to make the simple play, let alone score.
Scott Levy/NHLI via Getty Images
Alain Vigneault tries to light a fire under Rick Nash for Friday’s game vs. the Islanders.
“I always found myself to be a streaky player, and right now, things just aren’t going in, but hopefully they’ll start (going in) soon,” said Nash, who has just two total points in his last six games. “(When I’m not producing), I try to help the team in any way, whether it’s making a good defensive play, blocking a shot, creating momentum. It’s not always going to turn out the way you want it to be.”
It’s conceivable Nash still may be adjusting after sitting out 17 games – more than a month between Oct. 8 and Nov. 19 – due to a concussion suffered in the third game in San Jose. When he came back, he put up five goals and two assists in his first nine games, including a three-game goal streak from Nov. 27 through Nov. 30, but since his play and production both have dipped sharply.
“I think after any injury, it takes time to get your game back,” Nash said. “I was off the ice for six weeks. It takes time no matter whether it’s a concussion or a different kind of injury. No matter what, it’s going to take time to get back in top performance … I think (my game) is coming. I’ve had good stretches. I’m just looking for consistency right now. I’ve had good games, and I’ve had games where I needed to be better. Whether I’m coming back from injury or not, it’s just a consistency thing.”
Henrik Lundqvist – whose annual salary next season of $ 8.5 million will surpass Nash’s – was set to make his eighth straight start in goal despite Wednesday’s overtime collision with Pittsburgh Penguins forward Christ Kunitz. He prepared to face an Islanders team that entered in 15th place in the 16-team Eastern Conference with just one win in their last 14 games.
Most recently, Tuesday night on Long Island, the Isles surrendered a 2-0 lead in the final 2:53 of regulation to lose to the Tampa Bay Lightning, 3-2, in a shootout.
“We have to try to find a way,” Islanders coach Jack Capuano said Friday morning at the Garden. “Some of the ways that we’ve been losing (are) tough to explain.”