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Rocket Rick? Nash keeping pace in Richard race by shooting out the lights

With a hat trick last night, Rick Nash is on pace to set career highs in both goals and points. At 30, Nash looks like he’s regaining the Rocket Richard Trophy form he had as a sophomore in 2003-04.
The Hockey News

The Hockey News

When Rick Nash scored 41 times in 2003-04, finishing tied for the league lead in his sophomore season, you couldn’t help but think maybe we were on the verge of seeing the NHL’s next great goal-scorer.

Since that performance, however, Nash has only hit the 40-goal plateau once more, in 2008-09, when he finished fifth in the Rocket Richard Trophy race. But even that was six seasons ago. However, with 22 goals in 32 games this season, Nash looks primed to make a serious push to pick up the second goal-scoring title of his career.

You could cite a lot of things for the reason for Nash’s newfound uptick in scoring, but the biggest is that Nash is no longer the only weapon. Instead, he’s one of a few. It’s creating ice for the power forward and, though he’s not finding the scoresheet in the assist column all that often, his incredible shot is finding twine at a rate that’s making Nash look like a threat for at least 50 goals this season.

So, is it also because he’s shooting more? Not necessarily. As it stands, Nash is on pace for nearly 300 shots, but that still wouldn’t be the highest total of his career. If he hits the 295 shot mark that he’s on pace to reach this season, it would only be the third highest of his 11-year career. In each of his two final years in Columbus, 2010-11 and 2011-12, Nash eclipsed 300 shots both seasons with marks of 305 and 306, respectively.

What’s different now than it was in either of those seasons is that Nash’s shooting percentage, particularly at 5-on-5, is through the roof. As it stands, Nash is currently scoring at even strength at an 18.75 percent clip. Of players with at least 50 shots on goal and 200 minutes of play at even strength, that’s the second highest mark, only .07 percent behind current goal-scoring leader Tyler Seguin.

Conventional wisdom would say that Nash’s shooting percentage is bound to slip a little here or there, but it’s hard to believe that’s going to be the case anytime soon. Though he’s been a bit of a streaky scorer throughout his career, in seven of his last eight seasons Nash has had a shooting percentage of at least 9.3 percent at 5-on-5. He’s also only two seasons removed from a year when he scored on 12.78 percent of his shots at even strength.

As for his shooting percentage at all strengths, it’s really not hard to believe he can keep up his current 19.1 percent clip. Factor in that in a tougher NHL climate, at least when it came to scoring goals, Nash posted a mark of 15.2 over the course of 80 games, and has since followed it up with totals of 18.2, 15.2, and 13 percent.

There is a small bit of luck in all of this, as well. Take, for instance, that though he has been one of the better goal scorers the league has had over the past decade, he recorded his first hat trick in more than four years on Tuesday night. That’s an incredibly long drought when you consider that Nash has had seasons of 32, 30, and 26 goals over full seasons, and scored nearly a goal every other game, 21 total, over the lockout-shortened season of 2012-13.

The miraculous thing about Nash is that he’s doing this at an age when most prolific goal-scorers are starting to wind down. Now 30 years old, he’s a veteran leader on pace to score 56 goals and record 92 points, both of which would be the highest totals of his career.

If Nash remains healthy, it’ll be he and Seguin in a two-dog race for the Rocket. With the supporting cast around him as he shoots out the lights, don’t be surprised if a one time sophomore sniper regains his status and becomes a veteran sharpshooter with a new piece of hardware for his trophy case.


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