If Artemi Panarin and Ryan Strome are, natch, Bread and Butter, then what are Adam Fox and Ryan Lindgren?
Peanut Butter and Jelly?
Well, they are the Rangers’ matchup pair on defense, that’s Fox and Lindgren … except for those games when they might not be.
Because though the symbiotic duo has minimized the effects of its comparative smaller stature — Fox is listed at 5-foot-11, Lindgren at 6-1 — to maximize its effectiveness, coach Gerard Gallant said Wednesday that an opponent’s physical makeup could influence him to switch off to the K’Andre Miller-Jacob Trouba tandem. Miller is listed at 6-4, Trouba at 6-3.
“You want your top guys on the ice, but against certain teams we’re going to look at the top guys and who they’re going to play against,” Gallant said. “Maybe we’ll say that it fits better with K’Andre and Troubs where there will be different matchups for different teams.
“Obviously size makes a difference when you’re playing in your own zone, and hopefully we’ll be playing a lot more in the other zone, but that definitely makes a difference, for sure.”
Remember this, even if Lindgren plays like he’s the size of Jeff Beukeboom: Nils Lundkvist, the presumptive third-pair righty, is listed at 5-11 while Zac Jones, still competing for a spot on the roster, is listed at 5-10.
Right there you understand why the Blueshirts signed 6-4 Patrik Nemeth and 6-6 Jarred Tinordi as free-agent defensemen.
Fox and Lindgren, who lined up as a pair for 48 of the last season’s first 51 games before injuries struck and forced the club to mix their alignment, were intact for Wednesday’s exhibition match at the Garden against the Devils. It represented the pair’s — and Fox’s — second game of the preseason.
“I’m looking to get up to regular-season mentality,” Fox said. “Wins and losses don’t matter, but it’s the first time with a new system for everyone, so it’s important for us to learn that a little better as a group and understand how everybody plays.”
The new system ushered in by Gallant stresses puck pressure, puck pursuit and puck support all over the ice. It is not about pushing it only one way. It is not about recklessness either, though the coach is encouraging his defense to join the rush and get into the play as much as safety warrants.
“I’m not a big believer of high-risk gambling plays. I don’t like that,” the coach said. “You need men to join the rush, that’s a big part of this league and a big part of having success in the offensive zone, but you have to play the numbers, too.
“I mean, you can’t just fly off the blue line and join the rush when it’s a high-risk play and your forward isn’t protecting that back and taking the [defensive] blue line away. You have to make sure you’re aware of what’s going on with the play and if there’s an opportunity to jump in, jump in, but not if it’s a high-risk play. The last thing you want is to give up two-on-ones and three-on-ones the other way.”
The Rangers do not want to cede the line on opposing rushes the way they did backing in way too often the last number of seasons under both of Gallant’s immediate predecessors, Alain Vigneault and David Quinn. That was never the plan but became daily fare because of negligent work on the backcheck by a plethora of forwards.
“We want to play a tight gap and be available, but the big thing about that is that you can play a tight gap when the back-checkers are coming back and working hard,” Gallant said. “You can play whatever system you want, but if you don’t work hard and compete hard and help your defensemen defensively, you’re going to have a tough night.”
Fox, of course, is coming off a Norris Trophy season in which he became only the second second-year defenseman, and first since Bobby Orr in 1968, to win the award. Lindgren, also an NHL sophomore a year ago, also took a dramatic step in elevating himself to top-pair status.
“The big thing for me this summer was working on my shot,” said the pugnacious No. 55. “It’s something management said I needed to work on from last year, getting pucks through. I also worked on my skating, which is something I think I’ve improved on from year-to-year.
“Getting pucks through is such a big thing, guys do such a good job of getting in the lanes and blocking shots, so I worked on just getting the puck and releasing it real quick.”
Quick at one end, stout at the other. PB&J. The matchup pair, except when it is not.
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