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Rick Nash being extra cautious this time before returning

New York Rangers right wing Rick Nash sets

New York Rangers right wing Rick Nash sets for a faceoff against the New Jersey Devils in the third period at Madison Square Garden on Sunday, Dec. 18, 2016. Photo Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

GLENDALE, Ariz. — If not for recent setbacks, an argument could have been made that Rick Nash should represent the Rangers at All-Star Weekend in Los Angeles next month.

After all, the veteran winger, who has made five All-Star appearances, has rebounded from a sub-par 2015-16 season, one in which he was sidelined for 22 games with a leg injury and scored just 15 goals.

Nash had 13 goals and 20 points in 29 games before a second groin injury, and resembled the all-around threat who was selected first overall by Columbus at the 2002 entry draft and has produced 406 goals, including 117 with the Blueshirts since he arrived prior to the 2012-13 season.

Instead, Nash will be spending the next week trying to make sure that there won’t be a recurrence of groin strains that shelved him first, for four games between Dec. 9-15. and now, from Dec. 20 until at least next week.

“We’re going to play it a little safer this time,” Nash, 32, said after a light skate at Gila River Arena. “I didn’t do anything hard. I didn’t take one hard stride…I’m still a while away.”

Nash did say he plans to skate again on Friday, but not with the team, and wouldn’t play on Saturday against the Avalanche in Colorado. “I need to work up to harder skates,” he said. “There was not one stop-and-start today.”

Rather than play with some pain, as he did when he overcompensated against Nashville, (a 2-1 shootout win) and New Jersey (a 3-2 shootout victory) on Dec. 17th and 18th, and injured the opposite side of the groin against the Devils.

“I mean, back-to-backs, double (two) overtimes,” said Nash, who now wants to be 100 percent before returning so he can play all-out, not only on offense, but on defense, where he has been backchecking furiously, creating shorthanded rushes and driving to the net.

During this season, Nash — who was named an alternate captain — has repeatedly said that “at my age” individual stats aren’t as important as winning. But that’s a pro’s modesty.

Without Nash, the Rangers would not be near the top of the NHL standings as the calendar turns to 2017. He is fifth on the team in points per 60 minutes, but has played just 30 of the 38 games.

Only three times has Nash gone two games without a point, and was blanked for three games just once. In his first two games back after being hurt Dec. 6 on soft ice in Barclays Center against the Islanders, he scored a goal in road wins in Dallas and Nashville.

With the latest All-Star format — (six forwards, three defensemen and two goalies and with each team being represented) — Nash’s chances are slim.

Although Nash isn’t where he wants to be on this Western swing — suited up and playing — there’s a silver lining for the Nash family. His older brother, James, 35, has tagged along as part of coach Alain Vigneault’s trip for players’ siblings.

“He’s been wanting to do this for 14 years,” Nash said with a smile. “There’s been dads’ trips, and last year, we had a moms’ trip. He’s been to games before, but now he gets to see what we do, how we live on the road.”

Lundqvist still out

Henrik Lundqvist, who missed his second start while recovering from the flu, backed up Antti Raanta, and said his goal was to play Saturday in Denver.

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