During the past seven years, Columbus Blue Jackets fans have become accustomed to captain Rick Nash’s ability to score goals, But in 2009 it is his playmaking skills that have led him to a team-high seven assists.
The young NHL squad sits in first place in the Central Division through week one.
“[Nash is] a smart player and has great patience in the zone,” coach Ken Hitchcock said. “This is as well as he’s played for a long time.”
Nash helped the Jackets (4-1-0) claim a 2-1 victory against the Calgary Flames (4-2-1) Tuesday night at Nationwide Arena after contributing two assists within 2:04 in the second period. He increased his team-high to nine points in the hottest start in franchise history.
“Yeah, we aren’t used to this,” said Nash, who has recorded four consecutive multi-point efforts. “You know it’s fun. We’ve got a great group of guys and it shows on the ice. We’re helping each other in games, playing well on the road and it’s fun to win.”
Now the Jackets prepare for three challenging games coming up on the schedule, starting with a home meeting against the Los Angeles Kings, Oct. 17. Following the home match, the Jackets go on the road at Calgary Oct. 20, and at Edmonton, Alberta Oct. 22.
These three opponents are a combined 11-4-2 to begin the year as each team sits within the top six seeds in the Western Conference.
Against the Flames, the Jackets looked strong on the power plays, which is something Hitchcock wants the team to improve on as the season progresses.
“We were really playing well and we earned the power plays that we got,” Hitchcock said. “We got stronger as the game went on. We earned [power plays] because of our hard work and the ability to keep the puck in the offensive zone. We reloaded hard and put pressure on them from the back end and that’s the only way you can play.”
Columbus is getting contributions from everywhere in the lineup, with 17 members recording at least one point through the first five games.
En route to the Jackets’ second home win against the Flames, defenseman Anton Stralman evened the score at one on a two-man advantage, 15:32 in the second period. Stralman, who was acquired from Calgary in late September, scored his first goal as a Blue Jacket against his former team.
“He adds a lot to our team,” Hitchcock said. “We haven’t had a right shot, who can snap it from the top, on the right side on the five-on-fours for a long time. He was pretty excited when he scored the goal. He’s feeling like if he can continue to play at this pace, there is a spot for him here. He’s a good add for us.”
The Jackets have relied on forward Kristian Huselius, who has points in four straight games after collecting the second goal against Calgary. After finishing second in the club in multi-point games in 2008-09 with 11, the ninth-year NHL veteran is picking up his game where he left off.
“Everybody around the team and the guys in the locker room are working hard every night,” Huselius said. “It’s a good start but we have to keep moving forward. We have got the confidence now and we know we can beat any team, and that’s huge.”
As Nash and company continue to gel as a unit offensively, the rest of the NHL should keep their eyes out for the Jackets.