Upon hearing that Adam Fox recently said the Rangers feel safer with Ryan Reaves on the ice, Reaves could only point to the obvious.
“If he didn’t say that, I would have not done my job for sure,” he said. “That’s what I’m here for.”
The Rangers added the 34-year-old Reaves this offseason, along with Barclay Goodrow, to bolster a fourth line that had been lacking in physicality and identity. Twenty-three games into the season, the Rangers are 16-4-3 and the gamble that some viewed as an overreaction to the Tom Wilson incident in May has worked.
The fourth line of Reaves, Goodrow and Kevin Rooney has, predictably, lacked for offense. But it has done its job — getting pucks in deep, forechecking, being physical with teams and adding an edge to the Rangers’ identity — to a tee.
“It’s no different than your top line going out there, scoring three goals and getting a power-play goal,” coach Gerard Gallant said. “They play their role real good. They work hard, compete hard, play a lot of the time in the other team’s zone and finishing checks. Everybody knows their role.”
This is, indeed, a group well aware of its identity.
“We’re not gonna put up 50 points,” Reaves said. “You’re not putting us out there to go score a goal in the last minute of the game. You need energy out of your fourth line. You need to chip in once in a while. You gotta play physical, you gotta play responsible.”
That has an effect of wearing teams down, and letting opposing defensemen know they can’t get away with everything. Ryan Lindgren described playing against a line like that as taking a toll on defenders.
“You kinda know in the back of your head, if you’re going back to get the puck, you’re gonna take a hit,” Lindgren said. “Those guys do a great job.”
Added Reaves: “If you catch a couple, especially D-men, with some big clean hits, I think they start throwing pucks away a little bit more. Maybe second-guessing whether they’re going into that corner first or they’re gonna let you go get it.”
Reaves noted that he hasn’t fought as much this season as in the past, when he played with the Golden Knights and Blues. But that’s not for lack of trying.
“Not a lot of teams have guys that are probably willing to fight me,” Reaves said. “But those days of lining up at center ice, ‘Hey, let’s go,’ those happen once in a while now. But I would rather go run somebody and have somebody come after me to defend their teammate. And then I draw real energy from that.”
It helps, too, that Gallant has kept the lines and minutes consistent as of late. If the fourth line has a bad shift, Reaves said, Gallant won’t refuse to put them back out. He’ll simply tell them they had a bad shift, then keep it rolling.
In the past, Reaves has played for coaches who do things the other way. He described sitting for 15 minutes, his legs seizing up once he gets on the ice, then committing a turnover and getting yelled at.
“Well,” he said, “it’s impossible to play [in that situation].”
Gallant’s approach, he said, lends itself to playing with confidence.
“We’re not so tight all the time,” Reaves said. “And [if] we make a mistake, as we come to the bench and we know we’re gonna go out there and make sure that the next shift is our best one. It’s so much easier to play with a coach who has confidence in you and allows you to play your game.”
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