In the 10 games that Adam Fox missed with a lower-body injury following his knee-to-knee collision with Carolina forward Sebastian Aho, the Rangers went 7-2-1.
That didn’t mean, however, the Rangers weren’t happy to have Fox, their No. 1 defenseman, back in the lineup Wednesday when they hosted the Detroit Red Wings at Madison Square Garden.
“Obviously, he’s a superstar player, an all-star player,’’ Fox’s longtime friend and defense partner Ryan Lindgren said. “He’s a guy we definitely missed, and a leader for us, as well. It’s huge when you get a guy like that back in the lineup.’’
Rangers coach Peter Laviolette said at the team’s optional morning skate that Fox, who last played Nov. 2, was a full go and wouldn’t be under any sort of restrictions.
“I don't think you'll see him play 30 minutes . . . but we didn't go into it with any restrictions,’’ Laviolette said. “I would say it'll be a normal game for him.’’
For Fox, who said he’s never missed this much time with an injury, at any level of his hockey career, that kind of talk was music to his ears.
“They’ve been skating me pretty well out there, but you know, obviously, [when] you miss an extended period of time, you hope not to have any rust,’’ he said. “Mentally, I think I'm ready to go, but I think for me, [the plan is] just keep it simple early, and then see how you go. But in terms of physically, and everything like that, I feel pretty ready to go.’’
Fox steered away from placing any blame on Aho for his injury. He called the play on which the players knocked knees “a bang-bang play.’’
“They kind of play that man-to-man defense, so he was kind of just coming at me, and the leg got extended,’’ Fox said. “I’m just happy it wasn't worse.’’
The Rangers placed Fox, the team’s second-leading scorer at the time with three goals and eight assists, on long-term injured reserve the next day, meaning he would have to miss at least 10 games and at least 24 days. The Jericho native was able to begin skating in about two weeks, and went with the team on its Thanksgiving week trip to Dallas, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, so that he could skate with his teammates at morning skates in order to help prep him for his return.
Asked in hindsight whether he could have gone on regular injured reserve (a seven-day absence) rather than LTIR, Fox said it wasn’t his call to make, but he was fine with the Rangers’ decision.
“I thought, this early in the year, we were having such good success, there's no need to rush anything,’’ he said. “And the guys played really well too, so it makes you feel a little better to not feel forced to rush anything, or do anything too drastic.’’
Placing Fox on LTIR allowed the Rangers to go over the salary cap in order to call up goaltender Louis Domingue from the minor leagues after Igor Shesterkin came out of the same game with an undisclosed injury. Shesterkin missed four games, and Domingue backed up Jonathan Quick for three games and started one, a 4-1 victory over Minnesota.
Meanwhile, Erik Gustafsson took over for Fox at the point on the top power-play unit and served as Lindgren’s partner in the 10 games Fox missed. Gustafsson had a goal and 10 assists while Fox was out. Zac Jones entered the lineup to fill Gustafsson’s spot on the third pair and picked up three assists.
“You see the way ‘Gus’ played, and ‘Jonesy,’ ’’ Fox said. “Me sitting down now and coming back, it's never easy for sure. So for [Jones] to come in and play as well as he did was a huge boost for our team too.’’