Things are getting ugly in a hurry for the New York Rangers. After winning the first game of their Eastern Conference Semifinals series against the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Rangers lost the next three. They failed to score in two of the losses, their power play has gone colder than the Artic and their playoff hopes are hanging by a thread.
If the nightly results weren’t bad enough, one of New York’s star players is dealing with some big-time fan backlash.
Just minutes into the third period of last night’s game, with the Rangers down 2-1, Rick Nash collected the puck behind his own net and carried it into the neutral zone. The second the puck hit his stick, a chorus of boos rained down from the Madison Square Garden bleachers. They were loud, they were unavoidable and they were targeted directly towards Nash. It’s safe to say Nash, New York’s prized acquisition from the 2012 offseason, is frustrating the Rangers faithful beyond belief.
But does he deserve as much blame as he’s getting?
If we’re going strictly based on results, then Nash certainly isn’t earning himself any praise. After last night, he’s officially gone 11 straight playoff games without a goal. He hasn’t notched a point in the last eight. Combining these stats with last year, when he made his postseason debut with the Rangers, Nash has only scored one playoff goal for New York. For a team desperate for scoring, this is a glaring issue.
The thing is, though, it’s not for lack of effort. In fact, he leads the entire playoffs with 45 shot attempts. If he wasn’t scoring, nor even trying to, then you’d be hard-pressed not to criticize Nash. The amount of shots he’s fired in 11 games so far this postseason at the very least tell you he’s trying to be as aggressive as possible in attempts to snap his goalless skid.
Any player can be snake-bitten at an inopportune moment. It happens practically every playoffs, with at least one player on each team. Here’s the real problem though; as mentioned above, he’s a star player. He’s an Olympian, one of the better players in the NHL. And he’s getting paid $7.8 million a year, a salary his team picked up by trading away crucial assets. When someone has all of these things hanging around him, and can’t put the puck in the net, the spotlight burns brighter than ever.
Is Nash 100% responsible for the 3-1 hole the Rangers have found themselves in? Absolutely not. He’s not the only player on the roster who isn’t scoring. For reference, Brad Richards leads the team with seven points this postseason, good for 27th in the league. A large amount of the players who have more points have played in less games. Nobody on the Rangers is lighting up the lamp, it’s not just Nash.
But when you carry the label of a star player, when you’ve had multiple seasons with 65+ points, when you’re getting paid more this year than anyone else on your team, you get attention when you’re underperforming. It works like that in every professional sports league. Nash isn’t the entire reason the Rangers are on the verge of elimination, but the expectation is he shouldn’t be struggling nearly this bad. Because of this, until he scores again, in this postseason or next, the boos aren’t going anywhere.