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Rangers' defense still a question mark until schedule picks up

Brady Skjei of the Rangers carries the puck

Brady Skjei of the Rangers carries the puck against the Islanders during the third period of a preseason game at Madison Square Garden on Sept. 24. Photo Credit: Steven Ryan

GREENBURGH, N.Y. — These days between games for the Rangers have become interminable. David Quinn’s club returned to practice Thursday, after an off day Wednesday, and everyone was itching to get back to game action.

“You guys are probably sick of asking the same questions,’’ Quinn told the media after practice. “I'm sick of answering them. [The players are] sick of practicing; we're sick of running practice. It's going to be good to play a hockey game, that's for sure.’’

After two games played, Quinn and his coaching staff still have questions about the team that can’t be answered until they play again, which won’t be until Saturday afternoon, when they host the Edmonton Oilers at the Garden. One of those questions is how good is their team defense, really? It didn’t look so good in the 6-4 win against one of the league’s better teams, Winnipeg, last Thursday. But Quinn changed a couple of defense pairings for Saturday’s game against Ottawa and the group looked much better in a 4-1 win over one of the league’s weaker teams.

“I thought everybody was a little bit better [against Ottawa]," Quinn said. “Now, was that just because they all played better? Or [was it] the pairings? I think it's too early to tell.’’

Quinn broke up the top pair from Game 1, Jacob Trouba and Brady Skjei, and partnered each with a 21-year-old rookie — Trouba with Libor Hajek and Skjei with Adam Fox — against Ottawa. Skjei and Fox were on for Mika Zibanejad’s even strength goal, and Fox started the play that led to the goal with a breakout pass to Artemi Panarin.

Asked whether his motivation in changing the pairs was to break up the two rookies, who had played together on the third pair in the first game, or to split up Skjei and Trouba, who looked nondescript as the first pair, Quinn said his reasoning was “a little bit of everything.’’

Skjei said he didn’t take the change as any kind of signal that the coaching staff was unhappy with the play of the top pair against Winnipeg.

“No, I don't think so,’’ he said. “All of our ‘D’ can play with each other. I think if me and Jacob need to play together at some point, we definitely can go back and do it. But for now, this is the way we're going, and, you know, we're doing alright now.’’

The 25-year-old Skjei understands that his role is a little different now that he’s playing with a 21-year-old rookie, as opposed to with Trouba, a fellow 25-year-old.

“Yeah, I mean, I'm definitely trying to help ‘Foxy’ as much as I can,’’ Skjei said. “He's a great player, but, I mean, there's little things here and there that are different [in] the pro game from the college game, and things that I definitely went through. I’m just trying to help him out, trying to make it as easy a transition as it can be.’’

Notes & quotes: Quinn said F Greg McKegg, scratched in the first two games, will play Saturday. He replaces Vlad Namestnikov, who was traded Monday night to Ottawa.

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