Connor Mackey and Zac Jones give slumping Rangers a huge lift

Just when things could not get any worse for the New York Rangers, they had to play the Ottawa Senators without two of their top four defensemen in Jacob Trouba and Ryan Lindgren. This forced the Rangers to enter the final game before the All Star break with Zac Jones and Connor Mackey reinforcing the blue line. Surprisingly, these two defensemen were the spark the Rangers needed to put forth their best performance in quite some time.

Trouba served the first of a two-game suspension handed to him for elbowing Pavel Dorofeyev of the Vegas Golden Knights and Ryan Lindgren was injured in that same Friday contest.

At a moment in the season when the Rangers appeared to be at an all-time low, with a depleted defensive core, they posted a big 7-2 comeback win in Ottawa on Saturday.

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Connor Mackey and Zac Jones

NHL: New York Rangers at Ottawa Senators
Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

Rather than coming out of the gate firing on all cylinders, it appeared as if it was going to be more of the same play that had been costing the Rangers. Defensive lapses and sloppy turnovers led to a 2-0 Senators lead.

Connor Mackey, who had played well up to this point, seemed to be the spark the Rangers were desperately searching for. After a big hit on Tim Stutzle of the Senators, Mackey and Brady Tkachuck would drop the gloves, and the Rangers never looked back. They would go on to score seven unanswered goals on their way to a 7-2 victory.

“On the bench, Laviolette was telling the guys to get a little more physical,” Mackey explained. “I just hit Stutzle there and then (Tkachuck) asked me to go, and I wasn’t going to turn it down. Hopefully it got the boys going.”

The Rangers really turned it up after the fight from Mackey. Less than a minute later, Alexis Lafreniere would find the back of the net and start an offensive explosion for New York that saw four goals scored in a span of 5:25.

Among the participants was Zac Jones, who was able to cash in with a goal and an assist in the contest. Jones has been shaky when called upon this season. Yet, he was able to put together a very solid night. This was certainly one of his best performances in his young career as a Blueshirt.

Serving as the teams’ seventh defenseman for the majority of the season, Jones has not had consistent playing time. His attitude, however, has remained positive and confident all year. It certainly showed against the Senators, as his patience had paid off.

“I just try to be positive,” Jones mentioned. “Obviously, things happen. You just have to be ready whenever. You never know when that time is going to come. You never know when you’re going to show up to the rink and you’re going to be in the line-up. That’s my mindset. Just coming in with a positive attitude every day and whenever the time comes, be ready.”

It is a positive sign for Jones, who was paired with Erik Gustafsson in the match up instead of his usual defensive partner Braden Schneider. Jones took it as a great learning experience.

“(Gustafsson) was doing great with me,” Jones recalled. “He was chatting with me the whole time. If you could tell, me and him were switching out there sometimes. We both can play either side, so it was good. He was very communicative with me before the game, during the game, giving me little pointers. We had a good game tonight.”

Connor Mackey got his fair share of learning experience as well. While he has played at the NHL level briefly, the 27-year-old defenseman found himself paired up with Adam Fox for the night. A valuable experience for anyone trying to make it in the NHL.

“He’s a heck of a player,” Mackey spoke of Fox. “He made my job really easy tonight, obviously, you know his credentials. He made my job easy, really simple. It’s an honor to play with him.”

On Sunday, the club returned Mackey to the Hartford Wolf pack along with forward Jake Leschyshyn. With the Rangers now entering the All Star break, they will not play for another eight days. This move is likely to get both of them playing throughout the Rangers time off.

While Trouba and Lindgren will return, do not be surprised to see more of Connor Mackey and Zac Jones in the Rangers line up if they are able to bring the level of play we saw against the Senators. It was a much-needed spark provided to a struggling Rangers team and defense. Hopefully a spark reminiscent of last year’s infamous Jacob Trouba helmet throw that propelled the Rangers’ level of play for the rest of the season.

Dane Walsh is a life-long fan of the New York Rangers. Growing up in the tri-state area, Dane has... More about Dane Walsh