Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Nash Takes Vancouver, a Canadian view

Toronto Star columnist Dave Feschuk clearly isn't pleased with the direction that the Olympics men's ice hockey tournament has gone for Team Canada, and he uses his column to spotlight the perceived shortcomings of one Richard Nash.  The insinuations about the Columbus Blue Jackets...well, they're not appreciated in this corner of Central Ohio.
Tinkering is [Team Canada coach Mike Babcock's] right, of course, but the onus to perform is on the players. Canada's goal scorers weren't brought here to go scoreless, after all. And no Canadian needs a goal more than Rick Nash.

Nash, the 25-year-old from Brampton, has been anointed a top-line winger in two straight Olympics now, but he has yet to score as an Olympian. That's nine Olympic outings without a goal for a player who has averaged a half a goal a game in his best NHL regular seasons.

It's enough to get you wondering if Nash is suffering the same kind of big-moment freeze-up that has afflicted Canadian athletes from Mellisa Hollingsworth to Denny Morrison to most of a team of alpine skiers at the Vancouver Olympics. Given the streaky nature of Nash's particular art, perhaps nine games doesn't make a trend, and maybe game No. 10, Tuesday night against Germany, will put that notion to rest.

Nash, to be fair, has been putting in clear effort here. And he was all of 21 years old when he went oh-for-Turin, where, by tournament's end, he was often riding the bench.

But Nash, let's be honest, is largely unaccustomed to outsized pressure. He plays on one of the NHL's smallest stages in Columbus, where he has scored exactly one playoff goal in his seven-year NHL career. And that's largely because he has played all of four career playoff games, this when the rest of the forwards on Canada's three top three lines have played an average of 57 post-season tilts apiece.

You can't lay that all on Nash. It's a team game, obviously; the Blue Jackets are bottom feeders again this season, 14th in the 15-team West. And it's not as though Nash hasn't pulled his weight in other international tournaments. He has scored 27 goals in 39 world-championship appearances.

But nobody, to be frank, cares deeply about those goals. The Olympics, unlike the worlds, is best on best, and it'll be interesting to see if the change of linemates changes anything.

On Monday Nash was swapped from the line centred by Canada's best player, Sidney Crosby, to another featuring two Anaheim Ducks, centre Ryan Getzlaf and right winger Corey Perry.

“Sometimes they go in, sometimes they don't. Hopefully they'll start soon,” said Nash. “Obviously Mike's trying to get a spark out of us guys and trying to find some chemistry.”


Nash, for his part, seemed mildly offended at the mention of his Olympic goal-less streak. Perhaps his greatness is never challenged in Columbus. Here, there's one way to stop the questions.

Clearly, Feschuk didn't see Nash nearly singlehandedly will his team into the playoffs last year.  Or do everything outside of play goalie to get the Jackets out of their historically bad slump this year.  But he hasn't scored - in the Olympics, and in particular for Canada - recently, and that's all that matters up north.

Brutal business.  Guess that's why Nasher makes the big bucks.

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