The Rangers visit the Devils tonight in the fourth and final regular season meeting. When the puck is dropped at The Rock in Newark, there will be one change to the lineup. It’ll be Hartford recall Brady Skjei subbing in for Marc Staal, who is banged up.
A 2012 first round pick, the 21-year old Skjei made his NHL debut appearing in two games against Edmonton and at Minnesota on Dec. 15-17. A left-handed defenseman, he’ll replace Staal, who’s been playing some of his best hockey since Ryan McDonagh went down. He logged over 25 minutes in the 1-0 overtime win over Detroit Sunday.
In his two appearances, Skjei showed off his strong skating and poise with the puck. He received 14:54 in his first game and 15:17 in his second game. In his first full pro season with the Wolf Pack, Skjei has registered three goals and 19 assists along with a minus-five rating in 52 games. His 22 points trail Matt Bodie by one for the team lead among defensemen.
With Staal and McDonagh both out, that means more responsibility for Keith Yandle, Dan Girardi, Kevin Klein and Dan Boyle. All have stepped up in McDonagh’s absence. The Ranger captain will miss a second consecutive game with a chin contusion and neck spasms. He will travel along with Staal to St. Louis and Dallas.
Dylan McIlrath has been used sparingly. He’s been getting around 12 minutes including some penalty kill time. It would be nice if the coaching staff showed more confidence in their lone physical stay at home defenseman. If Skjei slots up, does he play with Girardi or Klein? That largely depends on Alain Vigneault, who can match Yandle and Girardi and rotate Klein in.
The Devils are the lowest scoring team in the league. But obviously are desperate for a win after losing their last three. Their hanging on for dear life with only the slumping Red Wings keeping them in the wildcard hunt.
It’ll be Cory Schneider against Henrik Lundqvist at 7 PM.