The Ryan Lindgren injury last night played a major role in the Rangers being outclassed by the Bruins in the loss. The Rangers played with five defensemen and had to give more time to their bottom pair in Zac Jones and Braden Schneider. The fatigue and talent drop off led to the Bruins running rampant in the third period. If Lindgren is out a while, these issues were persist.
There are no depth options
Libor Hajek is a whipping boy for most Ranger fans. Honestly, it’s not really his fault. He was the “must have” in the Ryan McDonagh deal, which was an epic flop. The Rangers then rushed him to the NHL to make good on the trade, and that backfired spectacularly. They also refuse to part ways with him, to the point where they kept Hajek over their top-ten pick in Vitali Kravtsov last season, because they were scared to lose Hajek on waivers.
The same thing happened this year, with the Rangers keeping Hajek over Gustav Rydahl, who would be a welcome sight on the fourth line right now. The optics aside for a second, since we are talking about managing a long term Ryan Lindgren injury, Hajek is the next man up.
It’s not fair to use Hajek’s 38 minutes this season in any real statistical analysis. But it is at least promising that he looks to have improved from what his last three seasons have been. The bar was on the floor, granted, since he was a bottom five defenseman in the league, but improvement is improvement.
The question is: Did Hajek actually improve, or are we just looking at a small sample size? The Rangers can survive with Hajek playing at that level on the third pair. But history is not on his side, and Hajek, statistically speaking, is more likely to regress to his prior three years’ performance. Hope that he’s a late bloomer is still there, of course.
If the Ryan Lindgren injury is long term, it’s a problem
Aside from the depth concerns that Hajek would be a regular in the lineup, the Ryan Lindgren injury really illustrates how fragile a team can be when they lose a top player. Very few teams, Rangers included, can afford to lose a top pairing defenseman. The Panthers lost Aaron Ekblad, and now have Brandon Montour running their powerplay, as an example.
The only promising prospect in the system is Matthew Robertson, who plays more of a slow and steady game, perfect for Gerard Gallant’s ideal third pair. But the Rangers aren’t going to rush him, nor should they. But one more bump or bruise may force their hand, or worse, force a Ben Harpur call up.
Hajek in the lineup for a while is a problem, but needing Harpur to play minutes is a bigger problem. If the Ryan Lindgren injury winds up being long term, then the Rangers need to get creative to help manage.
Change up the pairs?
Losing a top pair defenseman is very tough to manage. It’s not as simple as putting Hajek in Lindgren’s spot with Adam Fox. Fox can carry him, but that means Hajek is getting top pair minutes, something he’s not ready for. So we are looking at breaking up the top-four, something Gallant has been loathe to do.
The most logical move is to put K’Andre Miller on the top pair with Fox. They are the two best defensemen on the roster, after all. At the very least, managing a long term Ryan Lindgren injury is made easier because the Rangers have Miller. There’s a strong case that the top pair would actually be better with Miller over Lindgren.
Given Gallant’s reluctance to change up lines and pairs, it seems likely the Rangers would keep Zac Jones and Braden Schneider together. That means Hajek and Jacob Trouba, who has struggled to start the season.
If the Ryan Lindgren injury is long term, the Rangers are going need their goaltending to right itself and their shooting percentage to correct itself in a hurry. While the schedule is light in November, they are still games where the Rangers need to bank points. Let’s hope it’s not serious and there are no setbacks, like we’ve been seeing with Filip Chytil.