Zac Jones needs to be back in the New York Rangers lineup
Gerard Gallant opted to scratch young defenseman Zac Jones in favor of Libor Hajek on Friday night. By all accounts, it wasn’t due to the one miscue Jones had for a goal against in the win versus the Minnesota Wild, but to give Hajek some playing time. MSG analyst Joe Micheletti said as much during the broadcast from Winnipeg.
First off, to judge Hajek’s performance against the Winnipeg Jets would be ridiculously unfair, especially since it was a bad night for the team. Still, it wasn’t hard to see that he didn’t have the same chemistry with Braden Schneider that Jones had forged dating back to their time with the Hartford Wolf Pack last season.
“I don’t watch the defensemen but I’ll watch the game tomorrow,” Gerard Gallant answered to a question regarding Hajek’s play. “I’m not going to comment on any of the defensemen.”
Although Hajek finished with an even rating in 13:45 of ice time, he was charged with three giveaways in the game. You can chalk it up to an off night for a tired squad, but his partner uncharacteristically also committed three giveaways.
For perspective, the pairing of Jacob Trouba and K’Andre Miller committed a combined five giveaways themselves but they also played almost 10 minutes more in the game.
Zac Jones needs to be back in the lineup
Jones, 21, registered two assists in 12 games for the Rangers last season. He also led all Hartford Wolf Pack defenseman with 35 points in 52 games. For his brief NHL career, he’s played 24 games and recorded 6 helpers.
In the early going of this season, Jones has played in two games without registering a point in 13:57 of ice time. However, if you’ve been watching closely, he’s been really good with the puck and broken up several decent scoring chances.
Gord Murphy, who is responsible for the Rangers defense as an assistant coach, has been very complimentary of the Jones and Schneider pairing.
“[Murphy] said they played and defended strong,” Gallant noted after the Rangers 3-1 opening night win on Tuesday at the Garden over the Tampa Bay Lightning.
However, versus the Wild, Jones made a few mistakes but recovered well on them to break up scoring chances against. Unfortunately, he did make an ill advised play at the offensive blue-line that led to a goal against.
Regardless of Gallant’s reasonings for wanting to play Hajek, it could be perceived as a message to Jones to be more careful with the puck or you may find the press box again.
Not really the best conditions for a young defenseman trying to become a regular.
Gallant also hasn’t been shy about his praise for Jones and his partnership with Schneider. Yet, he does love to harp about the kids size.
“Jones is not a real big defenseman but he defended real well in the zone. What we saw [against Tampa] was a real good pairing that played real well,” Gallant explained. “There are some games they’ll play more minutes, there are some games where they’ll probably play less minutes, that will depend on the score and the situations but we’re real happy with the way they performed.”
Happy enough to let the 5-11′ defender listed at a gracious 185 pounds back in the lineup? I certainly hope so, because based on the small sample size of the Hajek and Schneider pairing that committed 6 giveaways, it would be wise to get the young duo back together.
NHL News and Rumors
NHL Rumors: Is Patrick Kane destined for the Rangers or Islanders? Read more.
NHL Recaps: Brent Burns returns to SJ, Jets beat NYR, and more.
NHL Rumors: Which coaches will be extended? Read more.
Predicting what will happen with the Top 20 UFAs. Read more.