Nash faces former club as sliding Rangers host Blue Jackets

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( - Rick Nash isn't focused on facing his former team for the first time, not with his New York Rangers in the midst of a four-game losing streak at home.

Still, there will be plenty of focus on Nash's first meeting with his former Columbus club on Thursday night when the Blue Jackets pay a visit to Madison Square Garden.

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.

The Rangers visited the Blue Jackets on Nov. 7 and claimed a 4-2 victory, but Nash missed the game due to a concussion that kept him on the shelf for 17 games. New York's next trip to Columbus isn't until March 21.

Nash has six goals and five assists in 15 games this season and picked up his 600th NHL point with a goal in Tuesday's 4-1 setback to the Nashville Predators. The defeat dropped the Rangers to 0-2-1 on their current nine-game homestand -- the longest in franchise history -- and the club is on its first four-game slide at home since Feb. 20-March 3, 2011.

"It's just a really tough stretch for us right now where it's hard to get points," said New York goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who made 22 saves on 25 shots faced. "You just have to work through it, stick together and like I said, be positive. It's definitely a test for all of us."

Already without defenseman Marc Staal due to a concussion, Rangers captain Ryan Callahan exited Tuesday's loss in the first period with a sprained knee that is expected to sideline him for at least a month.

Those two injuries, combined with the current losing streak, has Nash more focused on righting the ship than facing the Blue Jackets.

"I think it's overshadowed by what we're worried about right now," Nash told the Columbus Dispatch. "We're worried about winning games and getting two points and kind of ending this losing streak.

"It'll be fun, but I think I only know one guy, maybe two or three guys that I played with. It's a totally different team. More importantly we have to win games here. We're worried about the Rangers and not other things."

Tuesday's game will also mark a return to Madison Square Garden for the players dealt to the Blue Jackets for Nash: Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov and Tim Erixon, though Erixon is expected to be a healthy scratch.

Dubinsky was a second-round pick by New York in 2004 and spent five full seasons with the Rangers prior to the trade, twice reaching the 20-goal mark.

Anisimov, a 2006 second-round selection by the Blueshirts, spent three seasons in New York.

"I'm going to go in there fired up (Thursday) night, trying to show (Rangers) management that they made the wrong decision trading me, and let them know, try to make them feel, like they wish they still had me," Dubinsky told the Columbus Dispatch.

Another Blue Jacket who will miss a return to MSG will be Marian Gaborik, dealt by the Rangers to Columbus on April 3 of last season for Derick Brassard, Derek Dorsett, John Moore and a draft pick. Gaborik had an assist in the November meeting, but is currently out with a sprained knee.

Columbus is also playing without goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky and defenseman James Wisniewski, while offseason pickup Nathan Horton has still yet to make his debut with the club due to shoulder surgery.

Still, the Blue Jackets found a way to win on Tuesday, rallying for a 5-4 win over the New Jersey Devils.

Columbus won for the third time in its past four games overall despite giving up a goal just 32 seconds into the game and trailing 3-1 early in the second period. Cam Atkinson had two goals and two assists, Dubinsky notched four points off a goal and three helpers and Nick Foligno was credited with the winner when Ryan Johansen's pass went off his skate with 91 seconds left in regulation.

"I don't think we had a great start. I don't think our legs were moving," said Dubinsky. "I think we were a little bit tired tonight and I think it showed. But we found a way to get a big win against a division rival.

"We definitely gritted it out."

Johansen has two goals and six assists over a six-game point streak.

With Bobrovsky sidelined with a strained groin, McElhinney is likely to make his first career start versus the Rangers tonight.

Lundqvist is 3-2-0 with a 2.62 goals against average in five previous meetings with Columbus.

The Rangers have won four of their past five encounters with the Jackets, taking two straight at home.