Ryan Lindgren’s looming Rangers return underscores worth

The question posed to Gerard Gallant was about the recently formed Niko Mikkola-Adam Fox pair.

The answer from the Rangers head coach was about Ryan Lindgren.

That should give you an indication of how anxious the Blueshirts are to get Lindgren back into action on the top defense pair after he has been sidelined for the past four games.

That probably will increase to five upon the match Thursday in Montreal that will open a three-game road swing on which results will be the lone focus.

The first wild-card Islanders have moved to within five points of the third-place Rangers, who probably shouldn’t rely on their three games in hand as some sort of guarantee.

It would be remiss of the Rangers not to acknowledge the lack in their performance since Ryan Lindgren absence.
It would be remiss of the Rangers not to acknowledge the lack in their performance since Ryan Lindgren absence.
Robert Sabo for NY Post

The second wild-card Penguins, whom the Rangers will meet on Sunday following a match Saturday in Buffalo, are six points behind, with both clubs having played the same number of games.

“We want our other guy back there,” Gallant said. “We want Mikkola playing what we brought him for, with [Braden] Schneider, playing with that group.

“He’s exactly what we wanted when we traded for him, but when you’ve got to move up in the lineup to play that many minutes against top players … you know, Foxy and Lindy have played together a long time and they’re pretty used to each other, so their chemistry makes a big difference.”

Lindgren joined his teammates on the ice Wednesday for the first time since he suffered a left shoulder injury on a hit from T.J. Oshie midway through the first period in Washington on Feb. 25.

The 25-year-old defenseman skated in a non-contact jersey, however, meaning he is probably a full-scale practice away from returning.

You never quite know, but if all goes well, Lindgren could participate in the morning skate Thursday in Montreal and the scheduled practice Friday in Buffalo before he rejoins the club for the weekend back-to-back.

Safe versus sorry, risk versus reward, and all that.

“A big step, but still day-to-day,” said Gallant, who does not include clues in health updates. “We’ll decide [Thursday].”

Fox and Lindgren are tied at the top of defense pairs’ goals-for ratio with the Devils’ Dougie Hamilton-Jonas Siegenthaler tandem at 61.9 percent, among the 14 NHL duos with at least 700 minutes of ice time.

The Blueshirts BFFs have been on for 39 goals for and 24 against in 812:51.

Connor McDavid #97 of the Edmonton Oilers skates with the puck along the boards past Ryan Lindgren #55 and Adam Fox #23.
Connor McDavid #97 of the Edmonton Oilers skates with the puck along the boards past Ryan Lindgren #55 and Adam Fox #23.
NHLI via Getty Images

Meanwhile, Fox and Mikkola have been on together for 49:52 at five-on-five since the Finn was acquired from St. Louis with Vladimir Tarasenko on Feb. 10.

That includes 47:18 over the past five games, during which the Rangers lost Lindgren and then played at least one defenseman shy for the next four contests.

The pair has been on for two goals for and seven against overall, and two for and five against over the past five contests.

A measure of stability on the back end will materialize when the spitting image of No. 79 — wait, that is K’Andre Miller — returns from his three-game suspension to join Jacob Trouba on what will be the club’s matchup unit until Lindgren returns.

Ben Harpur will skate on Schneider’s left side on the third pair.

Niko Mikkola
Niko Mikkola

The 6-foot-5 Mikkola has a rangy reach, competes relentlessly and gets physical when the situation calls for it.

After first making the adjustment to a new team and now to playing with one of the league’s elite defenseman and perhaps the most subtle and creative, Mikkola told The Post he has been comfortable with the transition.

“It’s not too hard to read him,” Mikkola said of working with Fox. “He’s one of the best D-men in the league and is very relaxed with the puck. He’s always in the right place. I don’t mind that.”

Mikkola’s average ice time has increased from 16:39 per with the Blues to 17:59 with the Rangers.

That includes an average ice time of 22:46 per over the past four games.

“I was [changing partners] earlier in the season with St. Louis,” he said. “I don’t mind that because you get to know how all the guys play, so you have that idea if there are injuries or something else. I just do my job and don’t have to think too much.”

The Rangers are 2-5-1 in their past eight games.

They are 4-5-1 in their past 10, over which they have allowed four goals or more seven times.

It is not all on the defense, of course, but they must reincorporate structure and sound 200-foot principles into their game, and fast.

Lindgren’s return sure wouldn’t hurt.