For the third straight day, Capitals woke up in Manhattan on Tuesday. They took Sunday off, they practiced on Monday, and late Monday night the team that's always talking about and striving to "get better" managed to do exactly that without even practicing or playing.
Just ahead of the midnight hour on Monday, Caps general manager Brian MacLellan put the finishing touches on a deal to bring defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk to Washington from the St. Louis Blues. Shattenkirk will join the Capitals in New York on Tuesday afternoon, and he is expected to be in the lineup on Tuesday night against the Rangers, sporting the No. 22 sweater for Washington.
Video: Trotz talks about acquiring Shattenkirk, #CapsNYR
Along with goaltender Pheonix Copley - who began his pro career in the Caps' system - Shattenkirk comes from the Blues in exchange for highly regarded rookie forward Zach Sanford, minor league forward Brad Malone, the Capitals' first-round pick in the 2017 NHL Draft and potentially a conditional pick or two as well.
Last week, the Caps appeared to be a team seeking to tweak its roster rather than make a sweeping change such as this one, but the opportunity to add a player of Shattenkirk's caliber was ultimately irresistible.
"We weren't planning on going for it, but we were checking in," says MacLellan. "We stated that we were going to pursue all opportunities to make our team better, and really there was only one guy that we thought would do that. So we checked in with [the Blues] on Sunday, and it just kind of developed. It looked like we had a chance to get him, and we went for it because it upgrades our team.
Video: Shattenkirk before his first game with the Caps
"I checked in with them on Sunday - I had called before that - but I was just trying to see what was happening. On Monday, we seemed to be getting a little closer and having more serious discussions, and then we just kept going from there."
Over the weekend, the Caps played a couple of games without two of their top five defensemen, Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik. Although Niskanen is expected to return to the lineup tonight and the Caps don't believe Orpik will be sidelined much longer, the glimpse into what life could be like without a couple of key blueliners - and the memory of being down two defensemen in Game 6 of their second-round series with Pittsburgh last spring - may have helped spur MacLellan into action.
"I think it did," admits MacLellan. "Obviously the playoffs last year hurt us. And I do think watching the game in Nashville puts a little scare into us as far as what happens to us if Nisky or [John Carlson] are out for a few games."
You've got to give something up to get something, and Washington has shipped away its first-round pick for the first time since 2011 and has also parted with a player the team really liked in Sanford.
Video: Kevin Shattenkirk talks about his trade to Washington
"Obviously we like Zach and we put a lot of time into developing him this year," says MacLellan. "We like the person and we like the player, and we think he's going to have a long career.
"It's tough to give up a guy like that, but I think where our organization is in its development, we were going to have to give up some young guys. It was more important to keep the roster together and to add to it, because we have aspirations of winning a championship."
The addition of Shattenkirk gives the Capitals a formidable right side of Niskanen, John Carlson and Shattenkirk.
"Hopefully it makes us stronger and it gives us more depth," says Trotz. "Obviously he has proven in the league he can put up some points. He is a veteran guy, and I don't think you can have enough depth in the playoffs, as you see it every year."
Video: Caps players talk the acquisition of Shattenkirk
Timely Arrival - Shattenkirk arrived in New York on Tuesday afternoon, too late for the morning skate but just in time to meet some of his new teammates and to get ready to play in tonight's game against the Rangers.
"A lot of excitement on my end," says Shattenkirk, of his reaction to learning he had been dealt to the Capitals. "This was a team that I didn't envision to be here and in the race [for my services]. And then out of nowhere, it just kind of came out of the blue. So it's been an exciting couple of hours for me and then obviously today meeting a few of the guys makes it all real."
During his rookie NHL season six years ago this month, Shattenkirk was swapped from Colorado to St. Louis. In that situation, he reported to his new team later in the same day he was traded, suiting up for the Blues that night against Anaheim. He skated more than 18 minutes and picked up an assist in his St. Louis debut that evening.
"That was a wild day," recounts Shattenkirk. "I think we left San Jose at about five in the morning and landed in St. Louis at three [in the afternoon], and had a game that night. Tonight's game will be played purely on adrenaline. And after tonight, I can hopefully rest up tomorrow and really start thinking about things."
At the outset of Tuesday's game with the Rangers, Shattenkirk is expected to play alongside Nate Schmidt, who has been playing almost exclusively on the right side this season. A lefty shooter, Schmidt will move back to the left side tonight.
"It's going to be interesting," says Schmidt. "There are a little bit different routes out there, and I've got to get used to getting pucks in different areas."
Communication will be crucial for the Schmidt-Shattenkirk tandem tonight as they play against a formidable foe without ever having as much as practiced together before.
"It should be interesting," smiles Schmidt. "Lotta talk, lotta talk. I was talking to [T.J. Oshie, Shattenkirk's former St. Louis teammate] this morning and I said, 'I hope he enjoys me chewing his ear off for the next couple of hours.' But yeah, that's the biggest thing about this, just make sure you get the guy as comfortable as he can be with the system, how we want to play and what [assistant coach] Todd [Reirden] expects of us. And that's my job for tonight, make sure he's ready and make sure he knows what we want."
Video: Alex Ovechkin talks about the trade for Shattenkirk
Roster Moves - In addition to the acquisition of Shattenkirk, the Caps made a series of roster moves in the hours leading up to the start of tonight's game. Washington recalled forwards Jakub Vrana and Riley Barber from AHL Hershey, and both players will play in their fourth game in five nights tonight.
The Caps also placed forward Andre Burakovsky on long-term injured reserve, retroactive to Feb. 9.
Vrana, who turns 21 today, will step into the spot Sanford vacated, on the right side of a line with Brett Connolly and Lars Eller. With Tom Wilson moving up to the right side of the top line, Barber will fill in on the right side of the fourth line with veterans Daniel Winnik and Jay Beagle.
Barber made his NHL debut on Friday against Edmonton, played for the Caps again on Saturday in Nashville, and was then reassigned to Hershey. During his weekend stint with the Bears, he skated in a Sunday afternoon game in Bridgeport.
Video: Barber talks about his first NHL recall
"I think I played 20 seconds or a couple of shifts with [Nicklas] Backstrom and [Alex Ovechkin out there,]" says Barber of his first two games in the NHL. "That was kind of a dream come true if you ask me, and especially seeing Oshie practice. He is one of my favorite players and I try to model my game a lot around his, so it's just cool to be around him and see what he does every day."
In The Nets - Braden Holtby gets the net back tonight in Manhattan against the Rangers. He is without a regulation loss in calendar 2017 (16-0-2 in his last 20 starts), and he has four shutouts, a 1.84 GAA and a .931 save pct. in those last 20 starts.
Lifetime in the regular season against the Rangers, Holtby is just 6-9-1 with a 2.71 GAA and a .910 save pct.
Henrik Lundqvist gets the net for New York tonight, seeking his 29th win of the season. Earlier this month, Lundqvist earned the 400th win of his NHL career.
Lifetime in the regular season against the Caps, Lundqvist is 21-9-4 with four shutouts, a 2.58 GAA and a .909 save pct.
All Lined Up - Here's how we expect the Capitals and the Rangers to look when they tangle for the second time in 10 days on Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden:
8-Ovechkin, 19-Backstrom, 43-Wilson
90-Johansson, 92-Kuznetsov, 14-Williams
10-Connolly, 20-Eller, 13-Vrana
26-Winnik, 83-Beagle, 24-Barber
44-Orpik (lower body)
77-Oshie (upper body)
26-Vesey, 21-Stepan, 61-Nash
20-Kreider, 93-Zibanejad, 36-Zuccarello
40-Grabner, 13-Hayes, 10-Miller
24-Lindberg, 73-Pirri, 19-Fast
8-Klein (back spasms)