The last time Rick Nash suited up for the New York Rangers, he faced off against Eric Staal and the Carolina Hurricanes. After being cleared for contact, however, Nash’s next outing with the Blueshirts could come with Staal as his linemate.
Nash has missed the past 20 games with a knee injury and was only listed as day-to-day, but finally he was able to get a full practice in and Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said there’s a good chance the 31-year-old winger could suit up Saturday agains the Detroit Red Wings.
“We’ll see how he responds,” Vigneault said. “Today was his first practice. He’s been skating a lot on his own and skated with half the team yesterday. If he responds well to today’s practice, I would say there’s a very good chance he’ll be in the lineup tomorrow.”
Nash echoed those sentiments, saying that he needs to make sure everything is feeling good before he gets back int he lineup. Nash did say, though, that everything was “great” and that he was feeling positive following the practice.
If he does get back into the lineup, there’s a good chance Nash will skate alongside Staal, if only just as an experiment to start the Saturday contest. In practice Friday, Nash skated alongside Staal and Viktor Stalberg, and Vigneault said the combination of Nash and Staal is something he has been thinking about since the Rangers acquired the former Hurricanes captain.
“Two big bodies — it’s something I’d like to see,” Vigneault said. “Nash has been gone now for 20 games, a month and a half, and the other [lines] have developed some chemistry. That might be an area where we can make it a little more challenging for the opposition as far as who they want to play, either their top D-pair or top line. It’s something I think is worth trying at this time.”
Nash said he and Staal have played together before as teenagers, and Nash said he and Staal are similar players. He said adding Stalberg to the wing, too, gives the potential line something extra.
"It's fun whenever you get a chance to play with a guy like him," Nash said. "I think with Stalberg, he brings so much speed, one of the best skaters in the league, and hopefully that opens things up once we get playing.”
Before being knocked out of the lineup, Nash was having a decent season, but it was nowhere near the campaign he had the year prior. In 2014-15, Nash scored 42 goals in 79 games and it was the first time he had cracked the 40-goal mark since 2008-09 with Columbus. With 15 games remaining in the Rangers’ season, Nash will return with only 12 goals to his name. If he fails to reach the 20-goal mark, it will be the first time since his rookie year that he has had a season of fewer than 20 goals, and that includes the 2012-13 lockout-shortened campaign.