If David Quinn has made one thing clear in this heartening opening weekend for the 2-0-0 Rangers, it’s that his second season behind the bench is not going to be spent sitting and watching, just waiting for something good to happen. Of course development remains an organizational priority, if not the top priority. But patience is not in abundance — at least at the start.
Quinn has already shown an immediacy in his moves, waiting one game into the regular season to break up the ballyhooed American buddies of Brady Skjei and Jacob Trouba as what was considered the defensive first pair. So there was 21-year-old Libor Hajek settling Trouba down for more consistent shifts during the team’s 4-1 drubbing of the lowly Senators up in Ottawa on Saturday night, while Skjei was more often than not the deficient one in his new pair with another 21-year-old rookie, Adam Fox.
Skjei still managed to get 20:27 of ice time, including 7:08 in the third period. Quinn knows they need him to be a force, but the hope is that he can play his way out of this inconsistency that has plagued him for stretches over the past two seasons.
“Brady is obviously a great skater and a guy that moves the puck pretty well,” said Fox, who vastly improved from his shaky NHL debut on Thursday night at the Garden with a stellar performance against the Senators that included a nice bank-pass that started the highlight-reel tic-tac-toe passing play on the second of three goals for Mika Zibanejad.
“Hopefully we get out quick,” Fox said, “and I’m able to play next to him.”
Quinn has some time to figure it out, as the team has a very quirky early schedule. They got Sunday off, but they don’t play another game until Saturday afternoon at home against the Oilers — followed by another four days off.
But it’s not just about Quinn figuring out the defensive corps with three new pieces. Quinn was trying to find some traction up front, with only five of their 10 goals coming at even strength — three on the power play, one shorthanded, and one empty-netter. The top line of Artemi Panarin-Zibanejad-Pavel Buchnevich has shown indelible chemistry, but remember, Quinn even said in preseason that “sometimes when you put three skill players like that together, it becomes a Harlem Globetrotters hour.”
The coach also knows that many people are waiting to see how he uses Kaapo Kakko, as the No. 2-overall pick in June’s draft is still waiting to fully find his footing (or a point). In Saturday’s third period, Quinn tossed Kakko out for a few shifts in Buchnevich’s spot on the top line in hopes of getting him going. It won’t be too long before the confident 18-year-old Finn starts pressing, and then what?
Down the lineup, Quinn is seemingly finding more and more time for Brendan Lemieux, whom he moved up Saturday to the third-line wing in place of Vlad Namestnikov. Lemieux brings an element that the rest of the group lacks — even if he occasionally seems to run out of gas and look for a change at some inopportune times. But Quinn said Lemieux “definitely earned” the increased ice time, and that might be true going forward.
There has also been a consistency with the deployment of Brendan Smith in his dual role as a fourth-line winger and penalty-killing defenseman. For a forward group that has a lot of skill and finesse up top, Smith has shown value in the minutes he has played there — while also being a big part of the penalty-kill group that has given up just one goal in their first 10 opportunities.
Overall, Quinn knows there are some issues that can’t be sugarcoated by the dazzling plays from the high-end talent which have carried the Blueshirts to this nice early start. He wants to get this team on solid ground, and doesn’t seem like he wants to just wait and hope it happens on its own timeframe.
Even in another season of building, there is now an increased urgency.
“It’s early,” Quinn said, “and the thing I liked is we got better.”