CRANBERRY TOWNSHIP, Pa. — Brady Skjei, who left the Rangers’ 6-2 victory over the Sabres midway through the second period Friday night because of a lower-body injury, did not practice Saturday. His status for Sunday’s game in Pittsburgh is uncertain.
“He’ll be a game-time decision,’’ coach David Quinn said.
If Skjei cannot play, it could open the door for forward Filip Chytil to return to the lineup after being a healthy scratch Friday. That would allow Quinn to return to a more normal 12-forward, six-defenseman lineup rather than the 11-and-seven look he has used the past three games.
Defenseman Freddie Claesson, out since suffering a dislocated right shoulder Jan. 12, has been cleared to return, Quinn said. So if Skjei — who was spotted before practice wearing a brace on his right knee — can’t play, Quinn has the option of staying with the seven-defenseman alignment if he puts Claesson in Skjei’s spot.
“It all depends on who’s available, if Brady’s available, and what we’re going to do,’’ Quinn said. “It’s still really unclear what we’re going to do tomorrow as we stand here today.’’
Quinn, who said Friday that Chytil was scratched because his play had been slipping, said he won’t keep the 19-year-old out too long. He hasn’t decided if he wants to sit him for two games or just one.
“I do not want him sitting,’’ Quinn said. “I mean, I want him in the lineup, and I’ve got to wrestle with ‘do I think one more game is the right message, or [should we] get him right back in?’ ’’
Chytil said it was “different to watch it from the stands’’ but added that he was happy the Rangers won Friday’s game and said being scratched didn’t hurt his feelings.
“No. We play a lot of games,’’ Chytil said. “We have 25 games in front of us, so I think [a one-game absence is] a good rest for me. It’s a great learning experience to see the guys, how they play, and learn from there.’’
Smith shows versatility
Defenseman Brendan Smith played the first half of Friday’s game at left wing on the fourth line during five-on-five situations, though he did play defense when the Rangers killed a penalty in the first period and switched back to defense after Skjei left the game.
On Saturday, Smith skated in practice as a forward, though Quinn said that was only because right wing Jesper Fast (maintenance) did not practice and the Rangers needed Smith to play up front so they could run four lines. He said he thought Smith played very well at forward Friday night.
A person with knowledge of general manager Jeff Gorton’s thinking confirmed a report by the New York Post’s Larry Brooks that the Rangers have had discussions with the agents for Mats Zuccarello and Kevin Hayes about potential contract extensions.
The discussions don’t necessarily mean the two free agents-to-be will be signed, however. Either or both still could be traded before the Feb. 25 deadline.