The Rangers’ protection could have a barely totally different look after they take the ice for the primary time in 12 days for his or her recreation Wednesday in Dawn, Fla., in opposition to the Panthers (until and till additional discover).
Ryan Lindgren has joined Jarred Tinordi, Alex Georgiev and newest addition Kevin Rooney on the COVID record, so Adam Fox could have a brand new companion for the primary time on this season’s 31 video games. His title is Libor Hajek.
“Play nice protection, give him the puck and let him do the offense,” the sage 23-year-old Czech stated of working with Fox, the reigning Norris Trophy winner. “And be there for him.”
Hajek didn’t gown for any of the Blueshirts’ first 26 video games. He was a wholesome scratch 21 instances and in Hartford on a conditioning project for the opposite 5 matches. He lastly obtained a look-see on Dec. 10 at Buffalo whereas Tinordi was with the Wolf Pack for conditioning and Nils Lundkvist was stricken with a non-COVID associated sickness.
This contest will mark the fifth straight for Hajek, who has averaged 12:42 of ice time per recreation whereas partnered primarily with Patrik Nemeth on the third pair. Nemeth will reunite with Lundkvist for this one.
“He’s performed regular, ? No errors,” head coach Gerard Gallant stated of Hajek. “He’s performed a stable recreation, he strikes the puck nicely and skates nicely, so he’s every little thing we thought we had within the man. He didn’t get an opportunity to play early on, it was robust however we have been profitable video games and proud of the lineup.
“However now that he’s gotten in, he’s not flashy, however he’s performed actually good, stable hockey. Now he’s in all probability going to get a chance to play extra minutes and hopefully he’s going to maintain getting higher as a result of he’s performed nicely for us.”
Gallant had taken to splitting matchup assignments between the Lindgren-Fox pair and the Okay’Andre Miller-Jacob Trouba tandem. Hajek and Fox, who fashioned a duo for Fox’s NHL debut within the 2019-20 opener after which for 5 video games late final season, will face their share of top-six forwards on the Florida roster, which has 4 gamers on the COVID record, together with marquee winger Jonathan Huberdeau.
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“I’m prepared for it,” Hajek stated in regards to the elevated minutes and duty that can come his means. “I really feel good. I really feel extra confidence, I belief myself extra, I’m higher with the puck. I’ve to continue to grow like that.
“The primary 25 video games at first of the season was form of laborious, however that’s how it’s, that’s the game. The largest half [of my game] is protection, one hundred pc protection, after which so as to add some stuff to the offense. I remind myself of that and being good on first passes.”
Lindgren was a staple on the penalty kill, his 2:33 of shorthanded time per recreation main group defensemen. Whereas Nemeth pairs with Trouba on the penalty kill, both Hajek or Miller should choose up Lindgren’s minutes alongside Fox. Hajek didn’t get on in any respect on the penalty kill in his earlier 4 video games, however Miller has skated a sum of 24:03 whereas shorthanded and has been on for one power-play aim in opposition to.
As soon as upon a time, when the Rangers inserted Anton Stralman into the lineup almost a month after signing him as a free agent early within the 2011-12 season, then head coach John Tortorella stated inelegantly of the defenseman: “I didn’t know who the hell he was after we obtained him and once I first noticed him, I didn’t like him.”
Gallant didn’t fairly mirror that sentiment, however the coach, who has the Rangers off to a 19-7-4 begin that represents the membership’s finest 30-game getaway since 1993-94, admitted he didn’t have a lot of a guide on Hajek earlier than the defenseman belatedly obtained into the season.
“I didn’t know the participant at camp and I used to be kind of watching and making an attempt to get to know the gamers I knew have been going to be on our group,” Gallant stated. “So to be trustworthy with you, I didn’t know a complete lot of what to anticipate.
“However from what I’m seeing now, I’m fairly proud of it for certain.”
And meaning one thing to Hajek.
“It feels good,” he stated. “It makes me need to push tougher, do every little thing higher, and keep humble.”