NEW YORK, NY — It’s a little like a yin-and-yin, without the yang — but it’s working.
Since Rangers coach Alain Vigneault put Brady Skjei and Kevin Shattenkirk, two of his best offensive defensemen, together five games ago, they arguably have become his most reliable pair. The two terrific skaters, who both like to get up in the rush and be creative in the opponent’s zone, have found a way not to overdo it.
It turns out the Rangers won all five games, as well, carrying the winning streak into Saturday afternoon’s Garden matinee against Connor McDavid, Cam Talbot and the Oilers.
“I think he said I make him skate, but I think we both make each other skate,” Skjei told The Post after Friday’s practice. “We both try to get up in the play. If he’s up there, I’m trying to get up with him, help him out, stay in support. I think we have pretty good chemistry last five games, and hopefully we’ll keep that going.”
It hadn’t been easy for Vigneault to find a suitable partner for Shattenkirk over the first month of his four-year, $26.6 million deal. The initial idea of pairing him with captain Ryan McDonagh never took off — although Vigneault never seemed enamored of that pairing anyway — and neither did a more traditional pairing, with Marc Staal as the stay-at-home partner.
It might have been considered a bit of a risk putting Shattenkirk and Skjei together, but they have more than held their own at both ends of the rink.
“Both of them realize and understand the importance of gap and defending,” Vigneault said. “I think where they’ve both been real good — and it’s one of the reasons why we’ve kept them together — when they’ve got a good gap and the other team dumps the puck in, Brady sometimes gets the puck and beats it with his speed and skating away from the forecheck, where Shatty will make that subtle little play, little breakout pass, that permits us not to spend a lot of time in our zone.
“So I like the way both of those guys right now are building chemistry. That’s a good sign for us.”
Now 104 games into his NHL career, Skjei has solidified himself as one of the core pieces of this Rangers team. The 23-year-old out of Lakeville, Minn., plays exactly the type of game Vigneault thinks is necessary for the modern NHL defenseman, with speed and skill no longer something just required of forwards.
“He can skate out of his trouble and recover on plays better than most guys,” Shattenkirk said. “It allows me to stay in a better position.”
The two of them have helped shore up the blueline during this stretch, in which the Rangers have rebounded from their awful start by playing a more structured game. It helps to get the type of ice time Vigneault is heaping on the two of them, with Skjei getting more than 20 minutes in six of the previous seven games.
“I think that makes the game easier, to me, when you’re playing a lot of minutes and in all situations,” said Skjei, who recently joined the second power-play unit. “When you’re not playing as many minutes, it’s not like you’re not focused, it’s just 20 or 20-plus minutes, you’re always on the ice and that definitely helps me play my best.”
It also helps to be partnered with a player who has the skill-set of Shattenkirk. Those two together might not have been the first thought of a perfect pairing, but recently, it has been working and the Rangers have been winning.
“I think the more reps we get,” Shattenkirk said, “the better we are.”