The Rangers would like to see more of Brady Skjei’s solid defense, but it may have to be in place of Ryan McDonagh.
Dan Girardi should be ready to return for the Rangers when the NHL playoffs start next week, but captain Ryan McDonagh’s status remains uncertain, making every shift Brady Skjei plays that much more important.
While Girardi will remain out for Saturday’s regular-season finale against Detroit at the Garden, Alain Vigneault said after Friday’s practice that Girardi is “doing better” and probably will suit up for Game 1 against either Florida or Pittsburgh. The coach stuck to the script when it came to McDonagh, who injured his right hand blocking a shot on Monday. “Upper body, day-to-day,” Vigneault said.
Skjei, a fellow left-handed defenseman, likely will play in the playoffs if McDonagh misses any time beyond Saturday. The rookie was called up for Tuesday’s win against Tampa Bay and will play his third straight game on Saturday, his longest stretch in the NHL this season.
The 22-year-old had some noteworthy positives in Thursday’s loss to the Islanders, breaking up a two-on-one and displaying poise with the puck as he skated out of the defensive zone and through the neutral zone to create a rush opportunity for J.T. Miller.
Henrik Lundqvist sees a bit of McDonagh in the way Skjei plays.
Dan Girardi is slated to play in Game 1 of the playoffs against either the Penguins or Panthers.
“He kind of reminds me of Mac a little bit just because he’s such a great skater,” said Lundqvist, who will rest Saturday in favor of Antti Raanta. “He moves the puck well.”
Skjei says he feels more comfortable each day and the NHL game has been slowing down for him. He was recalled at a time when the Rangers have played high-intensity games in the final week of the season against playoff opposition. The Red Wings will be as desperate as can be Saturday as they need a regulation or overtime win to clinch a postseason berth.
“I love playoff hockey,” Skjei said. “I love this time of the year. It’s the best time and teams are playing at their best. The intensity is definitely there and I definitely enjoy that part of the game.”
Ryan McDonagh hasn’t played since he hurt his hand against the Blue Jackets on Monday.
He made his NHL debut on Dec. 15 in a win over Edmonton and performed well despite one bad turnover which led to a goal. It didn’t take long for Skjei to believe he belonged.
“Mentally I feel like I can play at this level,” he said. “My first call-up I thought I played pretty well, and right then I knew I could play here.”
Wingers Mats Zuccarello and Viktor Stalberg missed practice Friday with lower-body injuries. Both will sit out Saturday but should be fine for the playoffs. Oscar Lindberg will play and Marek Hrivik was called up from AHL Hartford to fill out the lineup.