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While the Rangers continue to practice trial and error with their defensive pairings, there appears to be one tandem the team is sure about.
K’Andre Miller did not participate in Saturday’s scrimmage for what the team announced were “procedural” reasons, so the defensive duos were Jack Johnson-Tony DeAngelo, Ryan Lindgren-Adam Fox, Libor Hajek-Brendan Smith and Matthew Robertson-Tarmo Reunanen.
Head coach David Quinn had been experimenting with switching the right-handed DeAngelo to the left side next to Jacob Trouba (who also didn’t participate with the main group), but had DeAngelo back on the right side with Johnson on Saturday.
“We’re still in that mix-and-match mode of what our ‘D’ pairs are going to look like,” Quinn said on a Zoom call.
The only familiar pairing was Lindgren and Fox, whose chemistry immediately impressed when they were first paired together early last season. After Fox made the Rangers’ roster out of training camp as a rookie last season, Lindgren was called up from AHL Hartford shortly after, and they have been a relatively set-in-stone pairing ever since.
Lindgren and Fox began playing together when they were teenagers in the USA Hockey National Team Development Program. They have won gold (2017) and bronze (2018) medals together while competing for Team USA in the World Junior Ice Hockey Championships.
And after living a few blocks from each other last year, the two are now rooming together.
“It’s been fun so far,” Fox said on a Zoom call Saturday. “We go back, obviously, to when we were 16, and we have a lot of fun memories. It’s always a fun time. Right now, we have a little putting green in the apartment, so we have little putt-offs and Xbox competitions.”
Fox, who last season emerged as a Calder Trophy candidate, accumulated 42 points to become the first Rangers rookie defenseman to reach the 40-point milestone since Brian Leetch in 1988-89.
He ranked first among the team’s defensemen in goals above replacement (14.9) and wins above replacement (2.7), with Lindgren (9.1 GAR and 1.6 WAR) and DeAngelo (9.2 GAR and 1.6 WAR) the only others in the positive in each category, per Evolving Hockey.
Lindgren and Fox were on for 34 Rangers goals and 25 against while facing a succession of top-six opponents last season.
“As far as on the ice, I think we’re just so familiar with each other,” said Lindgren, who came to Broadway in the February 2018 trade with the Bruins that sent Rick Nash to Boston, “Going back to high school, and we played together all last year. I think we just know how to read off each other, and we’re always talking, talking on the bench and just trying to figure out what works. I think we just read off each other really well.”
The Rangers said Mika Zibanejad, as well as Keith Kinkaid, skated prior to practice Saturday.
“Mika has had a couple good days,” Quinn said. “He’s inching closer to returning.”
Additionally, Morgan Barron and Anthony Bitetto didn’t practice with the main group.