Adam Fox’s dilemma Rangers coach Gerard Gallant must manage
As for Rangers, who have spat from game to game despite going 6-3-1 since returning from their Feb. 15 hiatus.
1. The silver lining of Tuesday’s 5-2 loss at Minnesota is that the lopsided deal allowed head coach Gerard Gallant to limit Adam Fox’s ice time to 19:31, his lowest complement in the year other than the 15:01 he got in January. 27 game at Columbus, he left after the first shift of the third period with an upper body injury.
Fox has played the seventh-most minutes in the NHL over the past two years, averaging 24:19 this year after 24:42 a year ago. But last year was a 56-game season. Thursday night’s game in St. Louis will mark the club’s 58th game with 24 games remaining. The 5-11, 180-pounder has played 24:00 or more 32 times.
And the wear started to show. There are a few more mistakes than usual with and without the puck. He and trusty sidekick Ryan Lindgren have the third-best for/against goal percentage among pairs with 600 minutes at 57.38 and ninth-best among tandems with at least 500 minutes at five-on-five.
But the pair have been on six for and seven against since February 15. And, while xGF can be subject to interpretation and should never be quoted as a universal metric, it is informative when it comes to trends. And Lindgren-Fox is down 50% at 49.37 from 57.08 last season.
There’s more on Fox now. There are instances where he tries to do a bit too much. He gets caught a little more often, not having the foot speed to negate mistakes. The opposition is also paying a lot more attention to number 23. The focus on game planning against the third-year pro will only increase as the games get bigger. He will find more forechecks in his face.
When he was coaching against Bobby Orr and the Bruins in the 1974 Cup Final, Freddie Shero would have his Flyers throw the puck into the No. 4 corner at every opportunity to get a piece of him, slow down and wear it out. Shero used a similar tactic behind the Rangers bench in the 1979 semi-finals against Denis Potvin and the Islanders. Fox should expect that sort of thing this spring.
Managing Fox’s ice time down the stretch will therefore be essential for Gallant. That was the coach’s intention at the start of the season after pointing it out in training camp. But that was easier said than done.
Now, however, Gallant could cut Fox’s minutes by using Braden Schneider in his place on some shorthanded assignments. The youngster from Long Island gets 2:16 par on the PK, second behind Lindgren’s 2:22. Schneider is at 0:43. This is an area that Gallant (and assistant coach Gord Murphy, who oversees the PK) should address.
2. This is a recording. Something is wrong with Artemi Panarin, who has somehow gone 13 straight games since Jan. 27 at Columbus without scoring a five-for-five goal and has one in the last 22 games and two in the last 29. He’s scoring 0.5 goals per 60:00, the lowest five-for-five rate of his seven-year career, well below last year’s 0.9 and 2019-20’s 1.2 for 60 :00.
Panarin has too often seemed ordinary. Effervescence and explosiveness were lacking in his game. Precision passes through traffic does not pass. There are way too many turnovers on the offensive line. He hesitated. Taking into account that this sensitive son of Russia may have a lot on his mind, this is a problem that has persisted for months.
Multiple sources have suggested Panarin may feel pressured to play for Gallant, whose system is more structured than that of his predecessor David Quinn, with an emphasis on knocking pucks out of the zone on the breakout. As a result, fewer home runs, fewer odd breakouts in the neutral zone (unless triggered by Igor Shesterkin), and less open ice for Panarin to work with.
If there really is a problem here, it needs to be fixed. Rangers can strengthen their third line, they can add depth to the defense, but if Panarin is a pedestrian the Blueshirts are going nowhere.
3. Nights like Tuesday where Patrik Nemeth had a challenge make me worry that the blueshirts will end up paying too much to hire Ben Chiarot from Montreal.
The definition of “paying too much” is in the eye of the beholder, but mine would be the inclusion of a first-rounder, or Nils Lundkvist, or Zac Jones, or Matt Robertson, or Filip Chytil, or Brennan Othmann, or Will Cuylle, or Vitali Kravtsov or Brett Berard in the trade.
4. Of all the potential rentals, the one that would make the most sense is the one that made the most sense before the season even started. That would be Vegas’ Reilly Smith, who the Golden Knights may still have to move if there’s any intention to get Mark Stone out of LTIR before the end of the season.