Rangers testing familiar defensive pairings ahead of crucial Game 6

Feb 15, 2023; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; New York Rangers defenseman Jacob Trouba (8) celebrates defenseman K'Andre Miller (79) goal against the Vancouver Canucks in the second period at Rogers Arena. Mandatory Credit: Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Rangers are on a two-game losing streak, despite getting their postseason off to a red-hot 7-0 start. They now hold just a 3-2 series lead over the Carolina Hurricanes entering a decisive Game 6 matchup on Thursday night.

Ahead of Game 6, head coach Peter Laviolette is testing some new adjustments in an effort to get the Blueshirts back to their winning ways. One potential change that could be made would come on the defensive end of things, as Laviolette has been testing new (but familiar) defensive pairings in preparation for Game 6.

The Rangers are testing new defensive pairings

Nov 9, 2023; New York, New York, USA; Minnesota Wild left wing Marcus Foligno (17) fights for the puck against New York Rangers defensemen Jacob Trouba (8) and K'Andre Miller (79) and center Tyler Pitlick (71) during the third period at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 9, 2023; New York, New York, USA; Minnesota Wild left wing Marcus Foligno (17) fights for the puck against New York Rangers defensemen Jacob Trouba (8) and K’Andre Miller (79) and center Tyler Pitlick (71) during the third period at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

For the first nine games of the postseason, the Rangers’ defensive corps featured Adam Fox with Ryan Lindgren, K’Andre Miller with Braden Schneider, and Jacob Trouba with Erik Gustafsson. This configuration was the result of a change made at the end of the regular season. During practice this week, Laviolette reverted back to an older configuration that could be seen once again on Thursday night.

Laviolette reunited Miller with Trouba and Schneider with Gustafsson, per Mollie Walker of The New York Post. These pairings had their share of ups and downs during the regular season and their return has sparked a strong reaction from Rangers fans.

Peter Laviolette was unwilling to clarify what the defensive pairings would look like ahead of time

New York Rangers head coach Peter Laviolette coaches against the Arizona Coyotes during the third period at Madison Square Garden
Oct 16, 2023; New York, New York, USA; New York Rangers head coach Peter Laviolette coaches against the Arizona Coyotes during the third period at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

When asked about the defensive pairings seen at practice, Laviolette was coy in his response, as usual. He didn’t give a straight answer, but hinted that a change in pairings for Game 6 is possible:

“It may or may not be exactly how it was out there today with everybody,” Laviolette said after practice Wednesday, per Walker of The Post. “In speaking with Miller and Trouba, there’s a lot of experience there. They’ve played a long time together, a lot of minutes together. I still feel like, no matter where we go on the back end, we still have really good balance of defensemen that are experienced and a lot of confidence in the group of six.”

Would deploying these new pairings be a good move?

New York Rangers defenseman Jacob Trouba (8) looks on against the Philadelphia Flyers in the third period at Wells Fargo Center
Feb 24, 2024; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; New York Rangers defenseman Jacob Trouba (8) looks on against the Philadelphia Flyers in the third period at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Ross-USA TODAY Sports

The reaction to these practice pairings from Rangers fans has been largely negative on social media. They fear the worst when seeing Trouba and Miller’s names paired next to one another. However, there are reasons to believe this change could be for the better.

Trouba has been on the ice for eight of the Hurricanes’ past 11 goals. He and Gustaffson have struggled together and have been the pairing that Carolina has had added success in exploiting. Trouba logged more minutes next to Miller than any other defenseman during the regular season. Perhaps pairing them back up could be the way to get the Rangers’ team captain back on track to close out this series.

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