Before the 2013-14 season started, it was expected that Elias Lindholm would take the third-line center spot, but after an injury-filled training camp and a surprise high level of play from Riley Nash, the veteran earned the spot.
Nash held down the position for the first 20 games of the season, but lately the 24-year-old has taken a backseat, being scratched in favor of Kevin Westgarth and playing less than 10 minutes per game in the last two contests.
In the first game against the Devils, Nash played 9:38 minutes, in the second he received even less ice time with 8:47 minutes.
But Nash is also receiving less ice time on the penalty kill, a spot he regularly held this season and last. In the last two games, the Canada native has played 23 and 24 seconds shorthanded. Other players like Manny Malhotra and Patrick Dwyer are playing over a minute on the PK.
With this decrease in ice time and healthy scratches it’s likely Kirk Muller has lost confidence in Nash and is choosing not to play him in all game situations.
In the games against the Devils, every other player had over 12 and 11 minutes, respectively. That means everyone is playing over three minutes more than Nash.
There are some roster answers for the decrease in ice time: the Canes have pushed Lindholm into third-lice center, while Malhotra has taken the fouth-line duties, pushing Nash to the wing.
And whether that’s the right move to make or not, you would expect Radek Dvorak to be scratched instead of Nash.
Dvorak, who has played well since coming back from injury, is an older player that brings less to the ice than Nash does, but has seen more minutes and games than the first round pick in 2007 over the past week.
Riley Nash hasn’t been a regular scorer for the Canes this season, he has four points in 23 games, but scoring should not have been expected for Nash. He brings a high level of defensive play that Muller likely feels isn’t needed anymore with the signing of Malhotra.
But does that mean Nash should be sitting out of games and receiving less ice time? No. He’s still a strong player on the ice that has shown how he can help the team.
There could always be problems at practice or in the locker room with Nash, but nothing’s been made evident of that in the past. The game tomorrow could be an indicator of where the 6-foot-1 center stands on the depth chart.
With Westgarth serving a two-game suspension, Nash was reinserted into the lineup, but Westgarth will be available to play tomorrow against the Canucks, who are a notoriously tough team.
If Muller decides to go that route, Riley Nash will likely be the healthy scratch again. He’s played the fewest minutes and doesn’t seem to have the confidence of the coaching staff.