Rick Nash plays his 1,001st game Saturday. How many more are in his future?
Nash, who turns 34 in June, is in the final season of his eight-year contract, which carries a $7.8 million annual cap charge, and the soon-to-be unrestricted free agent wants to continue playing. Where, and for how long, is anybody’s guess. The assumption is that it won’t be in Canada: Although he was born in Brampton, Ontario, all the Canadian teams were believed to be on his no-trade list last season. Nor would he return to Columbus, where he began as an 18-year-old in 2003. Since asking to be traded, he is booed in Nationwide Arena every time he touches the puck. At this stage in his career, he would undoubtedly want to play for a contender.
It’s possible that Nash might agree to an Eric Staal-type of contract somewhere. Staal, who turns 33 Sunday signed a three-year contract with the Minnesota Wild in July 2016 worth $3.5 million per season.
READY FOR THAT TURNAROUND
At about 10:30 on Saturday morning, Henrik Lundqvist, goalie coach Benoit Allaire and Rangers scratches Paul Carey and Steven Kampfer were on the ice at Montreal’s Bell Centre. A sprinkling of spectators, a couple Rangers executives, and arena employees watched from the sea of empty red seats.
“Where’s all the fans?” Allaire asked with a grin.
Lundqvist faced shots for about an hour at one end of the rink, moved well, and declared afterward that his left knee---tweaked when San Jose’s Joonas Donskoi tripped over his pad Monday after scoring late in the second period---“felt good, better, the extra day helps.”
The Swedish goaltender said he was fine with coach Alain Vigneault’s decision to start backup Ondrej Pavelec for the second consecutive game. “Try to get better, that’s how I approach it. Right now it’s about winning for the team, and coming off the win (over Arizona on Thursday), I roll with everything, to keep him in. I see this as an opportunity to work on my game… get these couple of days to practice and focus on things I need to do better.”
With the Rangers trying to dig out of a 3-6-2 start, with losses that Lundqvist called “a little draining”, he is attempting to stay positive. After all, he has pulled out of slumps before.
“I feel like the good things have been good, there’s a few errors I’ve made the last couple games, I just need to cut it down a little bit. It’s a fast game, but all it takes is a bad decision here or there, it’s the difference,” said Lundqvist, who is 35 and face it, has looked his age on some shots. On others, he seems 25 again, and sharp as ever.
“It’s small, small stuff,” he insisted, as he did last season whenever he was rested for Antti Raanta. “Sometimes you get ahead of the play, analyze it too much as it happens; my game is all about decisions, I don’t rely on size or speed, I rely on good decisions, that’s something I’m working on in practice. I just need to bring it in games, all the time. ’’
To be sure, some goalies are off to terrific starts: Sergei Bobrovsky, Pekka Rinne, Jonathan Quick, Corey Crawford, Andrei Vasilevskiy.
But like Lundqvist, other proven netminders are having subpar stretches, with GAAs higher than the 2.88 league average and save percentages below the .910 average: Carey Price, Devan Dubnyk, Cam Talbot, Cory Schneider, Tuukka Rask. The 2015-16 Vezina Trophy winner, Braden Holtby, is hovering near those averages.
“You see a lot of games now in the league where there’s blowouts… there’s just a different type of hockey right now,” said Lundqvist, who is lugging a 3.12 GAA and .900 save percentage.As a goalie, if you’re not on top of it every night, you’re not going to have your results unless you really push yourself to stay on top of things…It keeps you honest, where you’re at with your game all the time.”
There’s no benefit to dwell in the past, though. Lundqvist was looking ahead to next week, when as the undisputed No. 1 keeper, he will be back in the crease.
“It will be a real big test for the group,” he said, “we’re going to play teams over .500 (Well, three of four: Vegas (8-1), Tampa (9-1-1), Florida (4-5), Columbus (7-3). We need to try to get one here (on Saturday night) and build momentum. You can’t look at the big picture, you have to break it down, and just take it practice by practice and game by game, that’s how you build it up.”
But he’s right about this upcoming four-game stretch, starting with the surprising Golden Knights on Tuesday, after which 16 games will be in the books as the NHL edges closer to the end of the first quarter. Bottom line? Lundqvist simply has to tighten this game for any turnaround in November.
The Rangers have fared well in previous Novembers:
Let’s catch up with three centers: Swede Lias Andersson, the team’s first-round pick in June and seventh selection overall, is 2-2-4 in ten games with Frolunda…Filip Chytil, the 21st overall selection, is 2-3-5 in five games with Hartford (AHL)…Vinny Lettieri, out of the University of Minnesota, is 2-2-4 in seven games with the Wolf Pack.
While some Blueshirts are a little banged up, they have been fortunate in avoiding major injuries so far. They have the fifth fewest man-games lost to injury in the league, as of Friday.
The hardest-hit teams in terms of man-games lost?