Nash-less Rangers visit Columbus

( - As the former face of the Columbus franchise, Rick Nash is likely to get a chilly reception when he finally takes the ice in front of the Blue Jackets faithful.

Unfortunately, both will have to wait for the homecoming as the New York Rangers forward remains out with a concussion.

There will be plenty of other reunions on Thursday night however when the Rangers and Blue Jackets square off for the first time since making two big trades with each other over the past year and a half.

The first overall pick by the Blue Jackets in the 2002 draft, Nash is the franchise's all-time leader in goals, assists, points and games played. However, he made the playoffs just once during his nine seasons with the club and finally asked for a trade prior to the 2012-13 season.

Columbus was able to accommodate him by shipping the 29-year-old to the Rangers on July 23, 2012 for centers Artem Anisimov and Brandon Dubinsky, defenseman Tim Erixon and a 2013 first-round draft pick, but the clubs did not play each other during the following season due to the lockout-influenced schedule.

Nash was expected to give the Rangers a boost on offense and did just that with 21 goals and 42 points in 44 games. He also was supposed to form a dangerous scoring duo with Marian Gaborik, but the two never really got on the same page and Gaborik found himself losing playing time under then head coach John Tortorella.

That situation was defused on April 3, when the Rangers dealt Gaborik and two other players to the Blue Jackets for centers Derek Dorsett and Derick Brassard as well as defenseman John Moore and a sixth-round pick in the 2014 draft, replacing some of the depth they lost in the Nash deal.

Gaborik had a pair of 40-goal seasons with the Rangers, but struggled to just nine tallies and 19 points in 35 games last season before getting traded. He has five goals and 10 points in 13 games this campaign.

Time will still tell how the clubs both made out in the deals, a tough gauge currently due to the fact that Nash will miss his 13th straight game tonight with a concussion suffered versus the San Jose Sharks on Oct. 8.

Losing Nash was part of a rough start to the season for the Rangers, but they have rebounded by winning four of their past five games. They reached the five-goal mark for the second time in three games last night in a 5-1 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Henrik Lundqvist made 28 saves and was backed by five different goal-scorers. Brassard was one of those to light the lamp as was Ryan McDonagh, Derek Stepan, Brian Boyle and Ryan Callahan.

"If we play hard and stick with our game plan, we can play with everybody," Callahan noted.

While getting its offense going, New York also held an opponent to a pair of goals or fewer for an eighth straight game, the longest such run since another eight-game span from Dec. 31-Jan. 14 during the 2009-10 campaign.

Head coach Alain Vigneault could opt to give Lundqvist the night off and give rookie Cam Talbot his fourth career start. He is 2-1-0 with a 1.96 goals against average and .929 save percentage over the first three.

The Blue Jackets have had a bit more time to focus on this reunion as they last played on Tuesday, suffering a 4-1 setback to the Ottawa Senators. The loss gave Columbus its second four-game skid of the campaign and it will try to avoid its longest slide since dropping six in a row from Jan. 19-Feb. 1, 2012.

R.J. Umberger scored the Blue Jackets' lone goal off assists by Dubinsky and Fedor Tyutin, while Curtis McElhinney gave up three goals on 23 shots.

"We have to find solutions to win hockey games," said Columbus coach Todd Richards. "There was an opportunity in the third and we let it slip away."

McElhinney was making his second straight start in an effort to give Sergei Bobrovsky a breather and the reigning Vezina Trophy winner is expected to start tonight.

In six career meetings with the Rangers, including five starts, Bobrovsky is 1-3-1 with a 2.87 GAA. He is just 4-7-0 with a 2.79 GAA in 11 starts this season, giving up three goals on 13 shots in 23 minutes of action in his last game on Nov. 1 in Pittsburgh.

The Rangers have won three of the previous four meetings with the Blue Jackets, including a 3-2 overtime win at home in the last encounter on Feb. 19, 2012

Columbus has lost two straight in New York and tonight is the first of four meetings between the now division rivals, with both teams in the Metropolitan Division under realignment.