The Rangers’ top four will most likely look different by necessity on Sunday afternoon against the Red Wings. Ryan Lindgren, who was held out of practice Saturday with an upper-body sustained injury against the Bruins, has been declared doubtful to play.
That is a rarity for a group whose top pairings have been essentially unchanged for the past two seasons, but the choice in front of Rangers coach Gerard Gallant comes down to whether he prefers to keep K’Andre Miller and Jacob Trouba together or to move Miller to play alongside Adam Fox, with someone else — presumably Zac Jones or Libor Hajek — on Trouba’s left.
One option was ruled out by Gallant on Saturday: playing Braden Schneider with Fox and necessitating that one play on his off side.
Miller skated with Fox for the majority of practice Saturday, though that came with the caveat that Trouba had a maintenance day.
“Don’t go by today’s D,” Gallant said.
So there will be some intrigue during warmups Sunday, though the option of Miller and Fox playing together is tantalizing enough to require closer examination.
Per Natural Stat Trick, Miller and Fox have been on the ice together for 173:37 at five-on-five since the start of the 2020-21 season and have a expected 51.82 goals percentage together. More than half of that time, however, came in 2020-21, when Miller was a rookie instead of a top-pair defenseman now averaging 22:04 per game. The two also skated together in the preseason this year against the Islanders, when Trouba and Lindgren sat.
“I get to sit on the bench and watch him do his thing 99 percent of the time,” Miller told The Post. “I think it’d be pretty cool to get the experience to play with him. A high-skilled player, we’ll make the most of it, have fun.”
The luxury of the Rangers’ situation is such that losing Lindgren means they will get to play Fox, the 2021 Norris Trophy winner, with Miller, who could contend for the honor in the future. Coaches like to say there is no such thing as a top pair. Gallant can do so credibly.
“I’m not worried about that at all,” Gallant said of the ripple effects from Lindgren’s injury. “It’s not like K’Andre and Trouba are second fiddle to those guys. They’re a big part of our group. I put those four on against anybody.”
Shaking things up by necessity is never perfect. This situation, however, might help the Rangers, who have not been operating at their best of late. The 5-2 loss to the Bruins on Thursday at the Garden knocked their record down to 6-4-2.
If that defensive change comes to fruition, the most important factor for Miller and Fox will be communicating with each other when they are used to such things being automatic.
“When you play with somebody for so long, obviously there’s little things where you don’t even have to talk,” Miller said. “It’s just talking without talking, really. You make eye contact and you know what the other person’s doing. With playing with somebody new, I always try to talk a little bit more, let them know where I am, where the pressure is.”
The Rangers are not sweating the possibility of that scenario. Instead, Fox echoed Miller’s language that it would be a rare opportunity to play alongside someone whose game he often admires from afar.
“You see what he does out there, the way he skates and the way he defends is good, too,” Fox said. “I’m out there with him [Saturday]like I said earlier, a lot of communication and trying to feed off each other.”
Regardless of whom Fox is with on Sunday, the only adjustment he will make is in his communication style — not his play.
“It’s not like you’re really gonna change the way you play too much based on who you’re with,” Fox said. We’ve had games playing with other partners in the years past. I think it’s nothing new to us.”