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Rangers' Adam Fox getting tougher, and having Ryan Reaves as backup helps

Adam Fox #23 of the New York Rangers

Adam Fox #23 of the New York Rangers skates with the puck in the first period against Alex Belzile #60 of the Montreal Canadiens at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021 in New York City. Credit: Jim McIsaac

GREENBURGH, N.Y.

Adam Fox laughed Saturday when it was suggested to him that he’s gotten a little more feisty than usual in the past week.

In Wednesday’s game against the Islanders, Fox saw red and went after forward Jean-Gabriel Pageau when he didn’t like the high hit Pageau laid on his Rangers defense partner, Ryan Lindgren. And on Friday, Fox got into it with his childhood friend, Charlie McAvoy, after McAvoy tripped Kevin Rooney in the final minute of the Rangers’ 5-2 victory over the Bruins in Boston.

"I don’t know if that’s exactly my game, but I guess sometimes you’ve got to get in there,’’ he said. "Hopefully it doesn’t happen too many more times.

"Everyone feels they have each other’s backs, and no matter if you’re not the toughest guy, or maybe it’s not part of your game, [if] you see something you don’t like, sometimes you’ve got to step up and do something. It might not always be knock a guy out or something, but you’ve just to let other teams know that things like dirty hits, or anything like that, aren’t going to just get swept under the carpet.’’

A lot of that, Fox said, has to do with the presence of enforcer Ryan Reaves on the team. Though fighting isn’t a big part of the game anymore — and Reaves has had only one fight this season — having one of the most feared fighters in the league in the lineup makes everyone feel braver, Fox said.

"Having him on the bench [allows] everyone to puff their chest out a little more and feel a little safer,’’ Fox said. "He obviously keeps other teams’ guys a little in check as well. And maybe they can’t take as many liberties. [They’ve] got to answer to him if they do something that he doesn’t like. So yeah, I think having a guy like him allows everyone to play a little bigger, for sure.’’

Which was exactly the point of getting him, coach Gerard Gallant said.

"One hundred percent,’’ he said. "I had him in Vegas, and I know what he’s all about. You play a lot more comfortable with a guy like him in your lineup. And he’s played well for us, so it’s been perfect.’’

Reaves has played 16 games (he missed four games with a lower-body injury) and has averaged 9:56 ice time per game. He’s had three assists (including a gorgeous one on Rooney’s second goal against the Islanders on Wednesday) and 11 penalty minutes. He is by far the team leader in hits with 75. Chris Kreider is second on the team with 47.

"He has the one fight, but I mean, you see the way he plays, too. He throws some big hits,’’ Fox said. "He can change momentum in a second, and yeah, just his presence definitely changes the attitude of the team a little bit.’’

Fox said he and McAvoy spoke after Friday’s game and that everything is patched up between them.

"It was nothing too bad,’’ he said. "We grew up together and know each other pretty well, but you know when the game starts, it’s not too many friends out there.’’

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