RALEIGH, N.C. — Rest assured, if it had been May, Brady Skjei would have been able to play. But it is mid-February of what is shaping up to be a playoff-less season, so in conjunction with trainer Jim Ramsay, it was decided the Rangers defenseman was better off sitting out Sunday’s 6-5 loss in Pittsburgh and resting his “tweaked” leg injury.
Yet Skjei was back on the ice at an optional skate Monday, doing all of the stopping and starting without any sign of hinderance. That leads one to believe he will be ready for a return with Tuesday night’s game here against the Hurricanes.
“Felt really good,” Skjei said. “Nice to get back on the ice. It’s a minor thing. But you never want to miss games. To get back out there and feeling healthy is good.”
Skjei was hurt midway through the second period Friday in Buffalo when the Sabres’ Jason Pominville slid into his right leg/knee. He didn’t return, and he didn’t practice Saturday in Pittsburgh.
“Just off balance and tweaked something,” Skjei said. “But it’s felt better every day, and today on the ice felt really good.”
Coach David Quinn has dressed seven defensemen and 11 forwards for four straight games, but that has included playing regular defenseman Brendan Smith as the fourth-line winger. Smith has been pretty good there, too, before switching back to defense when Skjei and then Neal Pionk went down.
“I think my skating ability is what really helps me,” Smith said. “I want to be in the lineup and I want to play minutes. Whether that’s jumping back and forth, I just have to be mentally prepared for it. I know I can play it. I know I can do both.”
Defenseman Fredrik Claesson returned Sunday after being out since Jan. 12 with a shoulder injury, and he played well mostly alongside Kevin Shattenkirk. Claesson was one of seven skaters to join Henrik Lundqvist for the optional skate. The others were Skjei, Boo Nieves, Connor Brickley, Filip Chytil, Mats Zuccarello and Mika Zibanejad.
Quinn did not speak to the media after the optional skate, so there was no update on Pionk, who left Sunday’s game late in the second period after taking a high stick to the eye from Sidney Crosby. Pionk was held out for the rest of the game as a “precaution,” according to Quinn.
There also was no update on the health of Jesper Fast after the winger missed Sunday with the flu.