LOS ANGELES — Libor Hajek earned his stretch of games with the Rangers, and it appears Zac Jones is in for the same type of run.
That is only fair to both defensemen, who have been tagging each other in and out of the Rangers’ lineup through the first quarter of the season. Head coach Gerard Gallant has encouraged the healthy competition between Hajek and Jones, which will probably be beneficial for the young blue liners.
“I like it,” Jones told The Post. “I like competition. I’ve had the last two years, going into camp last year, coming into camp this year, I knew it was going to be a competition. Nice that we still have it going on.”
Jones was expected to skate in his second straight game Tuesday night against the Kings, slotting in next to Braden Schneider on the bottom pair. After Jones sat out the four games leading up to the Rangers’ 2-1 win at San Jose on Saturday night, he should be granted a stretch of playing time similar to that Hajek received to get into a groove.
If he played Tuesday, it would have been Jones’ 13th game of the season, a new career high after he appeared in 10 games in 2020-21 and 12 in 2021-22.
“I’m trying not to focus on it too much,” the University of Massachusetts product said of fluctuating in and out of the lineup. “I’m just trying to go out there whenever I can, whenever I’m in the lineup, go out there and prove that I deserve to stay in the lineup. Try not to think about how hard it is. Just go out there everyday trying to work hard, trying to keep my conditioning up, trying to keep my strength up and whenever I’m in the lineup, I’m in the lineup.”
Jones scored his first NHL goal on Oct. 29 at Dallas and entered Tuesday two points shy of matching the career high four points he posted in his first season with the Rangers. As an offensive-minded defenseman, Jones is able to provide strong leading passes to help the Rangers break out on the rush.
When asked what aspects of the Rangers’ play he has picked up on since getting to watch from the press box, Jones pointed to simplifying his game.
“Just being simpler with the puck,” he said. “There’s a few times where I’m out there just trying to make too many high-risk plays, but I can just make the easy play up the wall or something like that. That’s just the biggest thing I’ve noticed is just being simpler with the puck.”