TORONTO – It was the opening minute of a game that would turn into a New York Rangers blowout and the puck was on Rick Nash’s stick. All alone at the side of an empty net, the big winger tried in vain to whack it home from a tight angle.
By the end of a 7-1 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night it was a failed opportunity that would be forgotten by virtually everyone that witnessed it. However, it was also a moment that said a lot about how things have gone for Nash this season.
One of the top goal-scorers of his generation is mired in a funk and the timing of it couldn’t be any worse. We’re now just days away from the unveiling of Team Canada and no one can say for certain that Nash will receive an invitation. Not even Nash himself.
The 29-year-old has worn his country’s colours with pride and distinction over the last decade and would love the opportunity to do so again in Sochi this February. It’s something he’s thought a lot about in recent months – perhaps even a little too much. The uncertainty of his standing has proven to be a tough thing to ignore, especially with goals so tough to come by of late.
"I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think about it," Nash told Sportsnet following Saturday’s game at Air Canada Centre. "It’s something that every Olympic year you always worry about it. It weighs on your mind."
His fate was obviously not resting on the near-miss against the Maple Leafs, not even close. But that doesn’t change the fact that it was the type of moment where we’ve grown accustomed to seeing Nash put the puck in the net.
Only three Canadian-born players have scored more goals since Nash entered the NHL and two of them – Marty St. Louis and Patrick Marleau – are also currently being considered in the Sochi conversation. The leader of the pack, Jarome Iginla, is out of the running but has worn the Maple Leaf at three previous Olympic tournaments.
That is the number that Nash is looking to match in Russia after appearances in Turin and Vancouver. However, there was almost a hint of resignation in his voice during a brief conversation about Steve Yzerman’s difficult selections, which will be announced in Toronto on Tuesday morning.
Part of that could simply be due to the fact that he’ll need a little bit of good fortune to be included among the 25-man roster. Yzerman has said that his management group will take into account a player’s past performance – an area where Nash will receive plenty of checkmarks – but they also won’t ignore current form.
And with just seven points in 16 games since the start of December, Nash clearly isn’t his usual self. That much was apparent on Saturday night as the Rangers exploded for their best offensive performance of the season and he failed to even register a point.
There are some obvious mitigating factors, including a concussion that sidelined Nash for six weeks at the beginning of the year, which complicate an already complicated selection process for Yzerman and Co.
Nash was a monster during the last major international hockey tournament on Russian soil – single-handedly carrying Canada to gold at the 2007 IIHF World Hockey Championship in Moscow – and played a meaningful role in the victory at the Vancouver Games four years ago. He was at his best in a quarter-final victory over Russia that helped set the Canadian team on the path to victory.
The upcoming Games are already the main topic of conversation throughout the hockey world, with many still debating the selections by USA Hockey earlier this week and Toronto coach Randy Carlyle suggesting on Saturday that having Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk play for the Americans could be a negative thing for the Leafs because it might leave the players tired for the stretch run.
The discussion will only continue with the rest of the rosters set to be unveiled in the coming days. Nash has no idea if he’ll even hear one way or another before Yzerman steps to the podium in Toronto on Tuesday morning, but seemed at peace with whatever he decides.
"I hope to make the team obviously," Nash said. "I’ve been to two Olympics – I’ve been very fortunate – and I understand that Canada has a lot of good players. It’s kind of out of my hands now. I’m sure they already have their (decision made).
"If it happens, great; and if not, I’ll take the next steps – whatever they might be."
If nothing else, you can expect a few more goals from the Rangers winger once this particular weight is lifted from his shoulders.