As for Rangers, who have spat from game to game despite going 6-3-1 since returning Feb. 15 after their break.
1. The silver lining of Tuesday night’s 5-2 loss at Minnesota is that the lopsided deal allowed head coach Gerard Gallant to limit Adam Fox’s ice time to 7:31. It was his lowest complement of the year, aside from the 15:01 he had in the Jan. 27 game at Columbus, which he left after the first shift of the third period. due to an upper body injury.
Fox has played the seventh-most minutes in the NHL over the past two seasons, averaging 24:19 this season and 24:42 in 2020-21, which was a 56-game season. Thursday night’s game at St. Louis will mark Rangers’ 58th game, with 24 to play.
The 5-foot-11, 180-pound Fox played 24 hours or more 32 times – and the wear and tear started to show. He made a few more mistakes than usual, with and without the puck. He and longtime companion Ryan Lindgren have the third-best for-and-against percentage among pairs with 600:00 at 57.38 and ninth-best among tandems with at least 500:00 at five-for-five.
But the pair have been on six for and seven against since February 15. And, while expected percentage goals can be subject to interpretation and should never be quoted as a universal measure, it is instructive when it comes to trends. Lindgren and Fox are less than 50 percent at 49.37, down from 57.08 last season.
There are instances where Fox tries to do a little 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 coaching against Bobby Orr and the Bruins in the 1974 Stanley Cup Finals, coach Freddie Shero instructed his Flyers to throw the puck into the No. 4 corner at every opportunity to get a piece. of him, to slow him down and exhaust him. 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 be key for Gallant. That was the coach’s intention heading into the season, having made it clear in training camp. But that was easier said than done.
Gallant could cut Fox’s minutes by using Braden Schneider in his place on some shorthanded assignments. Fox gets 2:16 par on the PK, second behind Lindgren at 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 consecutive games since Jan. 27 at Columbus without scoring a five-on-five. He also 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 season’s 0.9 and 2019-20’s 1.2.
Panarin has too often seemed ordinary. The effervescence and the explosiveness were missing from his game. The precision passes through the 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, there are fewer homerun passes, fewer odd breakouts in the neutral zone (unless triggered by Igor Shesterkin), and less open ice for Panarin to work on.
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 will go nowhere.
3. Nights like Tuesday, where Patrik Nemeth had a tough game, 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 in the exchange 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.
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 remove Mark Stone from long-term injured reserve before the end of the season.