One of the biggest failings we still have in hockey -- and this is true for fans, media, and who knows, probably even the teams themselves at times -- is how easily we overlook the fact that players will sometimes, no matter how well they are playing, go many games in a row without scoring a goal.
In a league where the average game only has five or six goals between two teams, there are only so many goals to go around, and sometimes star players are going to get left out of the fun.
We've already been over this, but it's never pretty when it happens to a top-line, big-money player. This is especially true come playoff time, when that goose egg on the score sheet gets magnified and will overshadow what's otherwise strong play. It's almost as if that strong play has to be validated by the player in question scoring a goal for it to matter.
We're seeing a great example of this right now in Pittsburgh with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. We saw it last year with Boston and Jaromir Jagr when he went the entire postseason without scoring a goal despite being his usual dominant self with the puck. He came back in 2013-14 and had one of the best seasons ever for an age 40-plus player. We always seem to see it happen when Rick Nash goes a few games without scoring.
During Chicago's Game 5 win over the St. Louis Blues, Marian Hossa, who had been facing questions about his lack of goal scoring despite having a wonderful series to that point, finally ended what had been a 10-game playoff goal-drought going back to last year's Stanley Cup Final.
After the game, Hossa was asked what the difference was for him in Game 5, because finally scoring a goal must have meant he changed something about his game or the way he played.
His response was simple and perfect.
"The difference was I scored a goal."
Another way of looking at that quote: I was doing the exact same thing I've been doing the past four games, getting shots on net, creating chances, and one of them finally went in the net.
His teammate, Patrick Sharp, was going through a similar stretch and finally ended his goal-scoring drought in a Game 6 blowout, scoring his first goal of the playoffs after going 22 consecutive shots without one. That came just one day after talking about the benefit of creating chances. Now that Hossa and Sharp are on the board, that leaves Nash as the player with the most shots in these playoffs without actually scoring (23 shots with no goals heading into Game 6 on Tuesday night).
Naturally, the focus with Nash is on the lack of goals and how the Rangers need more from him.
The thing is, the Rangers are getting quite a bit from him and in a lot of different situations.
The fact that he has 23 shots on goal in five games probably says more about whatever luck he is (or isn't) getting right now than his actual play. During the 2013-14 season, Nash had 17 different five-game stretches where he registered at least 23 shots on goal. Only once did he fail to score a goal during any of those five-game samples (and he followed that up by scoring two goals in his next five games).
Eleven times he scored two or more during one of those five-game samples.
But just because he isn't scoring goals right now doesn't mean he isn't contributing in some way to the Rangers' situation. He's played more than 65 minutes of five-on-five hockey in this series and his team owns a 4-2 goals edge during that time. The fact that they're attempting more than 57 percent of the shot attempts with him on the ice, by far the highest mark of any Rangers forward in the series, suggests that he's helping to drive that goals advantage.
So who cares if the puck isn't going in the net off of his stick right now?
Other than making people feel better that he's doing what you expect Rick Nash to do (score goals), would it make any difference in this series if the two of the goals Nash was on the ice for were scored by him instead of somebody else? (This same argument applies to Crosby and Malkin, by the way.)
Of course not.
The Rangers are still kicking the Flyers all over the ice when Nash is out there and are scoring more goals in the minutes with him on the ice than they are in the minutes without him on the ice. He's also been used as a penalty killer, especially over Games 3, 4 and 5, and has been extremely effective. In more than five minutes of four-on-five play in this series with Nash on the ice, the Rangers have allowed just three shot attempts. Only one made it on net. The other two were blocked -- by Nash.
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These are the types of things that players like Nash often get crushed for not doing. The "one-dimensional goal-scorer that isn't helping his team unless he's scoring goals." Well, he's not scoring goals right now and his team is still better with him on the ice than it is when he's not on the ice largely because of the other things he's doing when he's not scoring.
Sometimes we create expectations for these players in our minds that this player has to score X-number of goals or produce a certain number of points in certain situations (usually "big games" or "big moments") to validate our opinions of them. If they fall short of that predetermined expectation, it's game over for their reputation no matter what else they're doing on the ice. Ask Joe Thornton or Patrick Marleau what that's like.
The problem with this is that when you take any player (and this can be true for teams, too) and isolate their performance to any four, five, six-or seven-game sampling, whether it be the regular season or postseason, there can be a lot of crazy results in there that we sometimes don't like to see or expect to see (the opposite side of this is when a guy like Ville Leino has 21 points in one 19-game playoff run).
At some point one of these shots from Nash is going to get beat Ray Emery or Steve Mason (or another goalie in another round if the Rangers advance).
When it does Nash will face an onslaught of questions about what the difference was for him on that shot. Or how he changed his game to bust out of his slump. We'll talk about how he did a better job going to the net or finally got that quality chance.
If he's smart, he'll simply take the Marian Hossa approach when dealing with it.
The puck just went in the net.