The Adam Fox Dilemma Rangers coach Gerard Gallant has to deal with it

Referring to the Rangers, who, despite the 6-3-1 record, have stuttered from game to game since returning from their break on February 15.

1. The silver lining of 5-2 loss in Minnesota on Tuesday is that the one-sided affair allowed head coach Gerard Gallant to limit Adam Fox’s ice time to 19:31, his lowest completion of the year aside from the 15:01 he scored in the Jan. 27 game in Columbus, the he left the third period with an upper-body injury after the first shift.

Fox has played the seventh-most minutes in the NHL over the past two years, averaging 24:19 this year, down from 24:42 a year ago. But last year it was a 56-game season. Thursday night’s game in St. Louis marks 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 and tear has started to show. Both with and without the puck, there are a few more mistakes than usual. He and his stalwart Ryan Lindgren have the third-best goals for/against percentage among pairs with 600 minutes at 57.38 and ninth-best in tandems with at least 500 minutes at five-a-side.

But the couple has been six for and seven against since February 15. And while xGF can be interpreted and should never be cited as a universal measure, it is instructive in terms of trends. And Lindgren-Fox is under 50 percent at 49.37 versus last season’s 57.08.

Rangers Adam Fox
Rangers defenseman Adam Fox (23) during the team’s loss to the Wild on March 8, 2022.

There’s more on Fox now. There are instances when he tries to do a little too much. He gets caught a little more often as he lacks the sheer foot speed to negate mistakes. No. 23 is also getting much more attention from the opposition. The focus on game planning against the third-year pro will only increase as games become more important. He will find more pre-checkers in his face.

While coaching against Bobby Orr and the Bruins in the 1974 Cup final, Freddie Shero had his Flyers throw the puck into No. 4’s corner at every opportunity to get a piece of him, slow him down and wear him down. Shero used a similar tactic behind the Rangers bench in the 1979 semifinals against Denis Potvin and the Islanders. Fox should expect something like this this spring.

As such, it will be crucial for Gallant to manage Fox’s Ice Age all along the route. That was the coach’s intention for the season, having already hinted at it in training camp. But that was easier said than done.

Rangers manager Gerard Gallant

Now, however, Gallant could cut Fox’s minutes by using Braden Schneider in his place on select penalty-kill orders. The Long Island youngster is 2:16 per PK, second to Lindgren’s 2:22. Schneider stands at 0:43. That’s an area Gallant (and assistant coach Gord Murphy, who oversees PK) should address.

2. This is a recording. Something is wrong with Artemi Panarin, who has gone 13 straight games since January 27 in Columbus without scoring a five-a-side goal, scoring one in his last 22 games and two goals in his 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 per 60-00.

Panarin has looked ordinary too often. His playing lacks liveliness and explosiveness. Precision passages through the traffic do not come through. There are far too many turnovers on the offensive line. He hesitated. Given that this sensitive son of Russia may have a lot on his mind, this has been an ongoing topic for months.

Rangers Artemi Panarin
Rangers wing Artemi Panarin during the team’s loss to the Wild on March 8, 2022.
Getty Images

Multiple sources have suggested Panarin may feel compelled to play for Gallant, whose system is more structured than that of his predecessor David Quinn, with an emphasis on hitting pucks out of the zone on breakouts. Hence fewer home runs, fewer odd-man breaks through 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 must be solved. The Rangers can bolster their third line, they can bolster defense, but if Panarin is a pedestrian, the blueshirts aren’t going anywhere.

3. Nights like Tuesday when Patrik Nemeth had a challenging one make me fear that the blueshirts will actually overpay to hire Montreal’s Ben Chiarot.

The definition of overpaying is in the eye of the beholder, but mine would be including 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 exchange.

4. Of all potential rentals, the one that made the most sense before the season started would make the most sense. That would be Vegas’ Reilly Smithwhich the Golden Knights may have yet to move if there is any intent to bring Mark Stone from LTIR before the end of the season. The Adam Fox Dilemma Rangers coach Gerard Gallant has to deal with it


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