NEW YORK, NEW YORK - OCTOBER 25: Libor Hajek #25...

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - OCTOBER 25: Libor Hajek #25 of the New York Rangers looks on during the third period against the Colorado Avalanche at Madison Square Garden on October 25, 2022 in New York City. The Avalanche won 3-2 in a shootout. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images) Credit: Getty Images

Rangers coach Gerard Gallant doesn’t have much surplus to work with as far as tweaking his roster when something doesn’t seem to fit right or isn’t working smoothly. So, coming off a shootout loss to the Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche Tuesday, Gallant didn’t have the option of freshening up his lineup much Wednesday against the Islanders at UBS Arena.

He was able to change the goaltender – Jaroslav Halak got the start against his old team instead of Igor Shesterkin – and forward Julien Gauthier was called up to  take the place of Vitali Kravtsov, who was out with an upper-body injury suffered Tuesday. But other than that, no changes.

That meant that defenseman Libor Hajek, who started one of the first six games, was back in the lineup for the second straight game while Zac Jones remained a healthy scratch. With the Rangers carrying only 22 players on their roster, one below the 23-man limit, and with center Filip Chytil currently out of action with an upper-body injury suffered in Sunday’s loss to Columbus, Gallant only has 12 healthy forwards. He does have one extra defenseman, though, and before the game Wednesday it sounded as though he planned on rotating Hajek and Jones for a while.

“We've got our regular crew of defensemen that play every game, and those two guys are basically battling for that (sixth and last) spot,’’ Gallant said. “And you know, I mean, you're not going to sit one guy. Libor sat a lot of games last year. It's not going to happen. If he plays well, he's going to get a chance to play.’’

Hajek, 24, was the seventh (and sometimes eighth) defenseman on the Rangers last year, and sat for long stretches, weeks at a time, waiting for one of the top six defensemen to get hurt in order for him to get in the lineup. Because he would have needed to clear waivers in order to be assigned to the minor leagues, the Rangers chose not to send him to AHL Hartford because they didn’t want to risk losing him off waivers. So they kept him on the roster all year and he ended up playing in just 17 of 82 games.

When defenseman Patrik Nemeth was traded over the summer to Arizona, though, a spot in the top six was available and Hajek and Jones battled for it in the preseason. Jones appeared to have the edge and played five of the first six games, but he has no points in his five games and has rating of minus-3. Hajek had no points, and a rating of even in his two games prior to Wednesday.

The two players, who have taken turns partnering with Braden Schneider, are very different. Jones, a 5-10, 178-pounder from Virginia, is a terrific skater and a great passer who plays on the second power-play unit. Hajek, a 6-2, 209-pounder from the Czech Republic, is more of a stay-at-home type defender who makes basic plays getting the puck out of the zone and occasionally shooting from the point.

According to Natural Stat Trick, the tandem of Jones and Schneider have been on ice together for 56 minutes and 34 seconds at five-on-five, and the Rangers have been outshot 21-20 during that time, while generating as many scoring chances as they have allowed (26-26). They have given up slightly more high-danger scoring chances (14) than they produced (11).

Hajek and Schneider had played 21:01 together at five-on-five before Wednesday, and were outshot 16-5, out-chanced 12-4, and allowed more high-danger chances (three) than they’d produced (two).

But Hajek and Schneider had not been on ice for any goals against, while Jones-Schneider were on for three goals against and none for.

More Rangers