Going into the season, expectations for the New York Rangers‘ defence were very low. After a brutal 2019-20 season defensively and with players such as Libor Hajek, Anthony Bitetto, and Jack Johnson each spending significant time on the roster, those concerns were more than justified. However, despite a defensive core that appears much worse on paper, the Rangers ranked 19th in the league in expected goals against/60 and 16th in goals against/60. While these placements are mediocre at best, they reflect a major improvement from last season. The Rangers ranked 30th and 22nd in each stat, respectively. Much of the credit for this goes to the top pairing of Ryan Lindgren and Adam Fox. Their collective performance against elite competition allowed the Rangers to remain in the playoff conversation in the toughest division in the league as one of the most inexperienced teams.
Analyzing the New York Rangers Lindgren and Fox Top Pairing
23-year-old Ryan Lindgren is the definition of a classic, old-school, stay-at-home defenceman. Often described as a “warrior” by teammates, fans, and coaches, there is no term better fitting. On a nightly basis, Lindgren gets in front of the toughest shots, with his body (his face in particular) often paying the price. What’s more, he uses his body to incorporate physicality into his game. He doesn’t shy away from confrontation, getting in scuffles with big names such as Brad Marchand and Alex Ovechkin. Not only does he confront top-end players, but he also effectively shuts down their attempts at offence. While playing with an edge and throwing hits is not uncommon, doing so and being effective simultaneously is uncommon. Ryan Lindgren does both.
Consistently, he can be seen suppressing shooting opportunities, cutting the passing lane, and breaking up rush chances. Among all defencemen, Lindgren tied for the 12th highest Wins Above Replacement (WAR) with 1.5. He ranked 18th in xDEF (expected defence goals-above-replacement) and 34th in xGA/60. Without a doubt, his excellent defensive capabilities speak for themselves.
On the offensive end, his conservative playstyle is not one that stands out. However, despite the lack of flashiness, he maintained a solid offensive impact, albeit not as much as his defensive partner. In 51 games, he has a goal and 15 assists for 16 points, a rate of 0.31 points per game— not too shabby for his playstyle.
Above is his RAPM chart, illustrating his impacts on both ends of the ice.
Adam Fox is an exceptional two-way defenceman. He is the type of player that can be counted on In all aspects of a hockey game. Whether it is on offence or defence, or even in transition, Adam Fox is one of the most effective defencemen in the league. Despite his small stature, he uses his elusive skating and hockey IQ to his advantage, along with a great ability to use his stick to defend. Not to mention his powerplay dynamics and quarterbacking abilities.
His high-end offensive abilities are captured above.
Statistically, Fox ranked second among all defencemen in points. He had five goals and 42 assists for 47 points in 56 games. He ranked 15th among league defencemen in WAR, 26th in expected even-strength defence (xEVD), and 19th in xGA/60.
Above is his RAPM chart.
Whether one looks at the numbers or at him on the ice, it is clear that he is one of the best defencemen in the NHL.
What a Duo
As a duo, the pair is no less impressive. Night in and night out, they complement one another’s playstyle quite beautifully. For the Rangers, it was like a match made in heaven. Lindgren brings the physicality and stays back when needed while Fox joins the rush and engages in the offence (and still very effective defensively). According to moneypuck.com, Lindgren-Fox top pairing ranked second in expected goals percentage (with 58.6 percent) among all defense pairs with at least 500 minutes played together. This means that with two of them out on the ice together the Rangers dominated 58.6 percent of all quality scoring chances. Needless to say, Fox and Lindgren were a major bright spot for the team this year.
With Lindgren recently extended, the expectation is that they will be reunited come next year. With that in mind, the Rangers should continue to build the rest of their blueline with pieces that fit well together. Young defensemen like K’Andre Miller, Zac Jones, and Nils Lundkvist will see an increased role on the blueline next year; to ensure their development, the Rangers’ new head coach must strive to create a similar successful combination for each of them.
*Thank you to EvolvingHockey and MoneyPuck for the data used in this piece!