There has been a lot of discussion about Rick Nash so far these playoffs, and with good reason. The Rangers’ leading goalscorer during the regular season has not put the puck in the net through 14 games, despite accumulating more shots on goal than any other player in the 2014 playoffs.
Because of this, predictably, Nash has been given all sorts of labels. He’s a playoff choker. He’s not putting forth the effort. Drawing such conclusions off the backs of playoff performances is an easy exercise, and one that is performed frequently, but is it a rational one?
Even if Nash is the chokiest choke who’s ever choked, he’s still ridiculously unlucky to not have scored on 52 shots on goal. Even if he had snuck 3 of those 52 shots past opposing goalies–still not enough to keep the vultures away–he would be shooting 5.7%, still less than half of his career mark of 12.4%. Shooting percentage is an extremely volatile stat, which tends to regress strongly towards the mean.
Does that mean Nash isn’t fighting it? No. In the first round, I rated him to be one of the Rangers’ best players. In the late stages of the Pittsburgh series, he looked like his goose egg was on the forefront of his mind. I have no idea how one can conclude he’s not trying, though. He’s been throwing his body around in ways we haven’t seen him do as a Ranger. He is seemingly determined to make an impact physically if he isn’t on the scoresheet. Granted, that’s exponentially less impactful, but the effort is there.
I did some research to see if Nash is generated shots from a further distance, suggesting that he might be driving the net less. He is, but only slightly. Not nearly enough to explain his shooting anomaly. (Extracting the data from the ESPN game logs, my search only came up with 41 shots, so there are 11 “lost shots” not accounted for.)
Even with only 80% of his shots in the sample, Nash’s expected goal output based on his shot totals and his regular season shooting percentages in two seasons as a Ranger is still 32/3. No Ranger has more than 4 goals in the playoffs.
Such is the playoffs. Sidney Crosby, the NHL’s leading playoff scorer since he broke into the league, scored one goal in 13 games, and now has an attitude problem and isn’t tough enough. I wonder if that would be the case if goalies didn’t stop 97.4% of his shots.
David Krejci, who lead the Bruins in scoring on the way to their 2011 Stanley Cup and who had 52 points in his last 54 playoff games heading into this season, had 0 goals and 4 assists in 12 games in the 2014 playoffs. I suppose he forgot how to be clutch.
If Nash starts to put some pucks in the net, as I fully expect him to, there will be a lot of reasons given why. Perhaps he was motivated by a teammate’s play, or an opponent frosting him made him kick up his intensity. Nash may give some of those reasons himself. It’s a lot simpler from where I stand. If he keeps getting pucks on net, he’ll start getting goals.