BUFFALO - Thanks to daily practices and a growing sense of confidence since his first NHL start, and win, on Feb. 20, Rangers rookie Mackenzie Skapski says he feels like a different goalie.
"Absolutely, 100 percent," said Skapski, who was tabbed to make his second start Saturday, also against the Sabres.
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"I think my development's really gone a long ways compared to if I were in Hartford playing games," said Skapski, 20, who was 12-7-3 with a .914 save percentage. "A lot of other people might argue that, but I feel being around the practices, getting a taste of the NHL, is important."
Skapski's debut went well, aside from the goal he surrendered on the first shot 14 seconds into the game. He stopped the next 23 shots, covering the puck as often as possible, in a 3-1 win.
"It's about limiting mistakes," he said after the Rangers practiced in Arlington, Virginia, before flying to Buffalo. "I made one noticeable mistake; I called an icing. Some technical mistakes, as well. This game you might see a little bit less [covering the puck], but there's still some kinks I need to work out. There was some timidness; I feel a little bit more confidence."
Alain Vigneault said Cam Talbot will start the second game of the back-to-back set Sunday at home. He said of Skapski: "There's no doubt that [goalie coach Benoit Allaire] has been spending a lot of time with him on the ice, but practice and games are two different elements. Cam's been playing extremely well, so we decided to ride the hot hand. The kid's going to get a second chance to play and I'm sure he's going to do well."
Skapski said Allaire "kind of just let me do my thing; I think he believes in my game and in what I do, I think, play to my strengths. The moment you fade away from your strengths, that's when you get in trouble.''
Notes & quotes: With Kevin Klein out three to four weeks with a suspected fracture of his left arm, Matt Hunwick will step in. "There's no doubt that he had been one of our more steady defensemen. Obviously a tough loss for us," Vigneault said. "In our minds, he should be all right for the playoffs. We've got four lefthanders and two righthanders, so there'll be some juggling. In Hunny, I see a different type of defenseman, but effective." . . . Because Henrik Lundqvist is on long-term injured reserve, "we have plenty of [cap] room if we need to use it," Vigneault said, but he will stick with six defensemen for the immediate future. He sounded optimistic about Lundqvist's readiness. "When he gets clearance, I don't expect it to be too long before he's in goal,'' he said. "He's been skating since the beginning. The only thing he hasn't done is taken shots up high. My understanding of his workload is that it's been very intense, so it shouldn't take him long to get back in playing."