Like metal filings pulled to a magnet, Capitals forwards are congregating on Rick Nash.
"They're shrinking the zone," said Nash, the elite power forward who has one assist -- on Derek Stepan's Game 3 winner -- in four games against Washington. "To beat that, I've got to use the weak-side 'D' and figure it out."
In other words, don't look to score, find an open teammate.
But scoring is the essential element of Nash's game, from his star-studded junior career, through international play, and in the NHL.
"I'm getting a chance here and there but it's a matter of working for that space," Nash said Thursday. "If they're going to shrink the zone even more, then I have to work even harder. I feel like I'm trying to get other guys the puck. I'll keep trying to create my opportunities and score goals and keep them out of my own net, but it's coming."
With the Eastern Conference quarterfinals tied at two games apiece, Nash expects the same tight coverage in Game 5, a pivotal matchup at Verizon Center Friday night. Any offensive contributions from Nash could prove valuable.
So far in the series, Nash has been on the scoreboard less than in his only other playoff appearance, when Detroit swept the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2009. Nash had a goal and two assists on 13 shots in about the same amount of ice time, 82 minutes, in the four games.
Nash certainly has been visible, with 17 shots, 11 attempts blocked, six missed shots, four hits and two blocked shots. But he has a doughnut in 17:15 on the power play. Coach John Tortorella, recognizing his struggles, played him only 2:51 in the third period of Game 4.
"He'll find the back of the net, no question about it," said Stepan, who declared that Nash "has a target on his back . . . I think he's been all over the puck. If one goes in, he might have three or four in this series. He hasn't caught a bounce yet. Like any guy, maybe he needs a fluky one to get the ball rolling."
Asked if the lack of production would get to Nash, as it has with other stars, and his overall game would slip, Tortorella was blunt. "He's not built that way," he said. "It hasn't gone for him, but there's no chance it will happen with him . . . he's too much of a pro."
Notes & quotes: Marc Staal, who kept himself out of Game 4, did not skate in Thursday's optional. Staal, whose vision remains blurred after a puck struck him on March 5, played 17 minutes in Game 3, but Ryan McDonagh said that Staal chose not to play in Wednesday's game rather than be a liability. Tortorella would not say whether Staal would play in the remainder of the series . . . The increase in pace and speed of Game 4 was noticeable and Carl Hagelin said: "We're a well-conditioned team, the more we play, the better we get. In the first game, we didn't bring the energy we needed; we have to come out strong and try to get the first goal."