Numbers add up for Nash

DEREK VAN DIEST, EDMONTON SUN

, Last Updated: 7:33 AM ET

Forget about hidden variables when it comes to measuring the value of Rick Nash to the Columbus Blue Jacket.

It's all in the numbers.

While Nash was on the shelf with a high ankle sprain at the start of the season, the Jackets went 4-7. When he missed 17 games with a sprained knee, the Jackets went 5-12.

Since his return on Dec. 17, the Jackets are 13-8-2, including yesterday's 2-1 shootout victory against the Edmonton Oilers at Rexall Place. The win improves the Blue Jackets' winning streak to a franchise-high five games.

"It's the power play and the special teams where he's an important player for us," said Blue Jackets head coach Gerard Gallant. "He makes everybody else better. People pay attention to him. If you watched (Chris) Pronger on our power play, he stayed with Nash the whole time and it opened up other people. So he's a big part of our club, there's no doubt."

Playing with Sergei Fedorov and Nikolai Zherdev, the Jackets' top line is one of the reasons for the team's resurgence.

Through the first 23 games of the season the Jackets only managed to score 40 goals. In their last 31, they have 91.

"I think the biggest key was getting healthy," Gallant said.

"When we got healthy, we really came together. I think we're playing better defensive hockey. The offensive part is taking care of itself, but the defensive part is getting a lot better."

For Nash, who was kept in check by the Oilers last night, the toughest part was getting back in shape.

The 21-year-old is starting to find his skating legs, which is good news to the Canadian Olympic team.

"We're playing with confidence," said Nash. "The first half of the season we had different lineups and different line combinations at every practice. Finally we can start playing together and start feeling comfortable with each other so there is a lot of chemistry in the lines now."

Despite playing in less than half of the Blue Jackets games this season, Nash sits sixth in team scoring. If he can stay healthy, he's well on his way to a 30-goal season.

"Rick is a very powerful forward," Fedorov said.

"I think we were worried about him just getting healthy. But once he got that, he got his timing back and he started making unbelievable plays.

"He's very good around the net and out of the corner, he can really move the puck very quickly. He's been very good for us in shootouts too."

Nash missed in his shootout attempt last night. The night before he scored the winner in a shootout win over the Calgary Flames.

In reality, though, as Nash goes, so do the Blue Jackets.

"This was a huge win," Nash said. "This is one of the toughest road trips of the year to come to Alberta and then Vancouver. Right now we've won two already, so it's been a big weekend so far."


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