Rangers need star defenseman to break out offensively in playoffs

NHL: New York Rangers at Carolina Hurricanes
James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

As the Stanley Cup Playoffs progress, the New York Rangers need more of an offensive contribution from star defenseman Adam Fox. That’s become more evident now that the Blueshirts have lost two games in a row and their power-play has hit a dry spell.

Fox has four assists in nine postseason games, and no points in in the past three games of the Eastern Conference Second Round against the Carolina Hurricanes. This is uncharacteristic for Fox, who had 73 points, including an NHL career-high 17 goals, in 72 regular-season games. he also entered this postseason with 31 points in 30 career playoff games.

When the Rangers opened the playoffs 7-0, Fox’s lack of production could be overlooked, especially with the power-play humming along. But now after failing to close out the Hurricanes in the past two games and a hugely-important Game 6 in Raleigh on Thursday, more is needed from the 26-year-old defenseman.

Averaging fewer than 0.5 points per game is uncharted territory for Fox. He even managed 42 points in 70 games in a smaller role during his rookie season in 2019-20, which is his lowest points-per-game average in the NHL thus far with 0.6. Even in last season’s first-round loss to the New Jersey Devils, Fox had eight points (assists) in seven games.

ESPN broadcasters Sean McDonough and Ray Ferraro even found it appropriate to speculate that Fox is playing hurt during the Game 5 broadcast Monday. If the national announcers are also noticing a regression in play from Fox, something is wrong.

Fox did take a questionable knee-to-knee hit from Nick Jensen in the first-round series against the Washington Capitals, and skipped several practices ahead of the Hurricanes series due to “maintenance.” So, it’s fair to speculate that he is not playing with a clean bill of health.

If Fox is hurt, he undoubtedly could have benefitted greatly from an early end to this series, with extra time to heal.

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Adam Fox and the struggling power play

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Carolina Hurricanes at New York Rangers
Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The Rangers started this series with two power-play goals in each of the first two games, a blistering 4-for-6 start. They’re 0-for-11 since, blanked in three straight games. As the point man, Fox shoulders responsibility.

Fox has just two power-play points in the nine postseason games, meaning even when the power play was clicking, he still wasn’t quite right. But it was easier to overlook then. This is a crucial moment in which the Rangers should be able to count on their star defenseman to tally points on the man-advantage.

The Rangers had a massive advantage in this series when their power play was performing at a world-class clip, but their lack of success recently has given an edge back to the Hurricanes. It’ll be a major point of emphasis in Game 6, for sure.

Rangers coach Peter Laviolette elected to shift focus away from Fox when asked about his recent three-game pointless streak on a conference call with reports Tuesday.

“I do think there’s a lot of things that happen that aren’t always reflected on the score sheet, and I do think that he’s contributed in a lot of different ways,” Laviolette said. “Last night was tough for everybody, so move past that one.”

While it is historically unlikely that the Rangers will lose four straight to the Hurricanes for only the fifth reverse-sweep in NHL history, Fox contributing on the power play and 5v5 would certainly help prevent a dark nightmare such as that from becoming a bleak reality.

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