PHT’s Pressing Questions: Can Nash put the Rangers over the top?

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Every day until the season starts we’ll explore an intriguing storyline for the upcoming year.

Last season, the New York Rangers fell just two wins short of playing in the Stanley Cup finals. They beat Ottawa and Washington in seven games, and lost to New Jersey in six. All in all, it was a good run.

But for all the good they did, they only scored more than three goals once in 20 games, and that was in the first game of the first round when they got four.

Thus, the blockbuster acquisition of Rick Nash from Columbus in July that sent Artem Anisimov, Brandon Dubinsky, Tim Erixon and a 2013 first round draft pick to the Blue Jackets.

Nash, 28, was the NHL’s first overall pick in 2002. Since then, the big winger has scored 289 times in 674 games. Of all the players with fewer than 700 games played, only Alex Ovechkin has more career goals.

True, Nash comes with a big contract – six seasons remaining with a cap hit of $7.8 million. But guys with seven 30-goal seasons that are still in their 20s are somewhat hard to come by.

Following the conference final defeat to New Jersey, Rangers general manager Glen Sather was determined to improve his club’s offense.

“This changes the complexion of our team,” said Sather. “It’s not going to change the way we play, but his ability is – he’s a world-class player, and was very excited to come to New York. We were one of his chosen few right from the beginning.”

But will Nash buy in to the Rangers’ do-whatever-it-takes philosophy that saw them block the third most shots in the NHL last season?

“I have no worry in the world about that,” said Sather. “If you remember, if you look at the record that this guy’s had over his career, he’s got a tremendous record of being an excellent hockey player. He played in the Olympics, he was one of the better players on that team.

“[Rangers head coach John] Tortorella’s coached against him not only in the NHL but also at the Olympics, and knew very well what his style was, knew that he’d fit in well with us. Everyone in our organization was after this guy.”

Besides, blocking a lot of shots isn’t always a good sign. When you’re blocking shots, you don’t have the puck. The Minnesota Wild led the league in block shots last season; the Islanders were second. Puck possession, or lack thereof, was a major concern for Tortorella in the New Jersey series.

In Nash, the Rangers get a big body that can control the puck in the offensive zone.

Thursday morning, Nash was skating with center Brad Richards and winger Marian Gaborik. Safe to say, not many teams can put together a trio like that.

Also safe to say, Nash never had linemates like that in Columbus.

“I think the main thing was looking at the team,” Nash said in July, “looking at what they’ve done over the years. It’s something I’d love to be part of.

“I’d love to help them out.”

Video: AHL goalie Jonas Gustavsson scores his first career goal

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He didn’t shoot, but Jonas Gustavsson still scored.

The former NHL netminder, now with the Bakersfield Condors in the AHL, scored his first career goal Friday, as part of his team’s victory over the San Diego Gulls.

From the AHL:

With San Diego goaltender Dustin Tokarski on the bench for an extra attacker and the Gulls working on a power play, Gustavsson made a save before an errant San Diego pass slid down the length of the ice and into the vacated net at 16:56 of the third period.

Gustavsson is the fifth AHL goaltender to be credited with a goal without actually shooting the puck into the opposition net. In addition to his goal, Gustavsson stopped 30 of 31 shots in the Condors victory.

Bolts and Islanders both win, which is bad news for Bruins

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The New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning each had to work overtime to decide their separate games, but when they ended, both clubs were victorious.

And that makes things even more interesting in the Eastern Conference wild card race.

With their shootout win in Pittsburgh, the Islanders tie the Bruins in points but take over the final playoff spot for now with fewer games played. The Lightning, despite an abundance of injuries all season, are just a point back of Boston and New York.

Nikita Kucherov scored the winner for Tampa Bay against the Red Wings. He’s up to 38 goals, which is second most in the league behind Sidney Crosby, currently at 42 goals.

Sellers leading up to the trade deadline, and without Steven Stamkos since the middle of November, the Lightning are in the thick of this race, even if others may have counted them out.

“Once again, people counted us out,” defenseman Victor Hedman told the Tampa Bay Times. “But we showed a lot of character. And we’re right back in it.”

The Bolts don’t play again until Monday, when they host the Chicago Blackhawks — only one of the hottest teams in the league.

Meanwhile, Saturday’s busy slate of games includes a showdown between the Bruins and Islanders. For Boston, it’s a chance for redemption after a particularly costly third period against Tampa Bay on Thursday.

What is wrong with the Sharks?

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Not that long ago, the San Jose Sharks appeared well on their way to winning the Pacific Division title.

On March 14, they had a seven-point lead on both Anaheim and Calgary. Gone is that advantage. Not only have the Ducks surged back into the fight for the division, but the Sharks have lost five in a row and are having a terrible time of late creating any offense.

The Ducks defeated the Jets on Friday, moving into a tie with the Sharks at 91 points.

San Jose’s struggles hit a new low Friday with a 6-1 loss to the Dallas Stars, a team with its own flaws and nowhere close to a playoff position.

At one point midway through the second period, the Sharks trailed the Stars by four goals and had only six lousy shots on goal. During this skid, San Jose has scored only five goals.

Earlier this week, members of the Sharks said they weren’t terribly worried about this losing streak. The losses, they had said, were in close games, which is true: San Jose lost three consecutive one-goal games.

“When I look at the losing streak, we dominated some of those games for long periods and found ways to lose. You never like to lose, but I’m not that concerned,” Sharks coach Pete DeBoer told CSN Bay Area. “We’ve got to obviously end it. We’ve got to get healthy. I don’t see a bunch of symptoms of a team that can’t get this fixed pretty quickly.”

This, however, was a blowout. Adam Cracknell recorded the hat trick, pushing his single-season career-high in goals to 10.

The performance at one point forced DeBoer to take a timeout, in which he expressed his displeasure.

Making matters worse for the Sharks: Defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic left the game early in the third period and was put under further evaluation. He didn’t return.

The Sharks visit the Nashville Predators on Saturday.

Halak and the Islanders defeat Penguins, move into wild card spot

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Quite a hockey game between the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday.

It offered plenty to enjoy — Phil Kessel‘s dominant but unfruitful shift in overtime, a combined 86 shots on goal between both teams, a showcase of skill from the likes of John Tavares and Sidney Crosby, and two strong goaltending performances from Jaroslav Halak and Marc-Andre Fleury.

Josh Ho-Sang, who wears No. 66, which is just fine in the eyes of Mario Lemieux, set up Brock Nelson‘s goal in the second period.

The Islanders and their fans probably aren’t hung up on style points at this juncture of the season. They just care about wins and points in the standings, and those are exactly what New York accomplished with a 4-3 shootout win in Pittsburgh.

Anthony Beauvillier and Tavares scored for the Islanders in the shootout. Halak made 37 stops, including a game-saver in overtime off Matt Cullen. Halak trapped the puck, which was right on the goal line, between his legs on a chance from in front. The play was reviewed but no goal.

The win gives the Islanders 82 points, which is the same total as the struggling Boston Bruins.

However, the Islanders, with one game in hand on the Bruins, take over the final wild card spot in the East for now.