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While a majority of the Rangers lineup has been retooled throughout the season, the top two defensive pairs have been a constant.
Jacob Trouba and K’Andre Miller haven’t missed a single game this season, and have lined up next to each other in every appearance dating back to the preseason. An upper-body injury sidelined Adam Fox for three games and Ryan Lindgren missed three contests due to COVID-19 protocol, but otherwise, those two have skated alongside one another in every other matchup.
Not only has it given the Rangers some uniformity, but head coach Gerard Gallant views the two pairs as interchangeable when matching up against opponent’s top lines.
Fox and Lindgren have been widely considered the Rangers’ No. 1 duo, donning a Batman-and-Robin nickname while often leading the team in ice time. However, Trouba and Miller have been challenged with the same quality of matchups and, as of late, have seemingly had more of an impact on games.
How about, Captain America and Falcon? ‘
“They’ve been great and I truly believe that, there’s no doubt,” Gallant said last week of Miller and Trouba. “We all know what Foxy did last year with the Norris Trophy and Lindy, great pair. But these other two guys have been good all season long for us. Trouba with 10 goals, plays hard defensively every night, big-time player. And K’Andre’s game has taken off this year.
“For me, they can play against anybody. The other pair can play against anybody and it’s not an issue for us. It’s a good thing to have.”
Gallant noted that if he worried about putting a specific defensive pair on the ice against certain lines, he’d be in trouble. The coaching staff isn’t telling the defensemen they can’t go out against particular opponents, he said, but they do go over assignments with assistant coach Gord Murphy.
“Gord runs the D,” Gallant said. “I don’t tell him who to put against who. We talk about it before the game, matchups, and I’m fine with whatever he does. That’s what it is, and teams that have a chance to win, you can’t keep playing the same guys over, because every team has two big lines.”
Heading into Sunday’s game against the Flyers at the Garden, Miller and Trouba had a plus-10 goal differential at five-on-five this season, according to Natural Stat Trick. In all situations, Miller-Trouba owned a plus-seven goal differential, while Lindgren-Fox had a plus-two.
In the 3-0 loss to the Islanders on Friday, Miller and Trouba logged the most minutes against the top line of Anders Lee, Brock Nelson and Anthony Beauvillier. While that particular game isn’t a good example of the Rangers’ slight improvements at five-on-five play recently, the progress has surely been there.
“I think we’re not giving up as many shots as we were,” Ryan Reaves said. “We were struggling with that a little bit. We’re also putting a lot more on the net. I think we’re not passing up many, that was also a bit of a problem I think. Try to make one or two extra passes, make the pretty play that were getting broken up, but we probably could’ve just taken a shot.
“I think up and down the lineup, guys are more willing to shoot and go for that dirty goal rather than the pretty one.”