Before this season began, Jeff Schultz’s fourth in the NHL, he sat down and decided on some individual goals for the year.
The six-foot-six defenseman had earned his status as a regular, but wanted to do more. He also needed to put a disappointing end to the 2008-09 season behind him.
“Point-wise I wanted to do better than last year, and I thought plus-minus was an area I could do better in,” Schultz said. “Other than that it was mostly just to try and get better every game and keep gradually moving to a higher level of play.”
He has already surpassed his career-best total in points with a few more weeks left in the regular season. His improvement in that category pales in comparison to the gains Schultz has made in plus-minus.
After two nice seasons in that category (plus-12 in 2007-08 and plus-13 last year) Schultz has soared to a spot among the league leaders. He checked in plus-38 as of Thursday, which was second in the NHL behind teammate Alex Ovechkin.
“That has just kind of come on,” Schultz said. “I think I am playing better and that has been kind of a bonus getting a lot of plusses out there. I think I am contributing a little more offense this year, and I’m just trying to get more shots to the net.”
A big reason for the success is the chemistry he’s formed with Mike Green as the team’s top defense pair. When Green joins the forwards on the offensive, Schultz is often charged with staying back to provide security against a counter-attack.
“Mike has such a unique style of game, and I think we do a good job of complimenting each other,” Schultz said. “I’m certainly not going to be rushing the puck up the ice like he does. He does a great job of getting back though, so I know he’s not going to put me in a tough situation very often.”
The final memory of Schultz’s 2008-09 season was him falling to the ice seconds before New York’s Brandon Dubinsky scored the winning goal in Game 1 of the team’s first-round playoff series. Schultz had broken a rib earlier in the game and was trying to play through it.
In fact, Schultz has missed 18 of Washington’s 21 postseason contests in the past two years because of injury, and he’s determined to have a better experience during the team’s forthcoming playoff run.
“I just put last year to rest and over the summer I totally forgot all about it,” he said. “I thought this year, ‘Hey, let’s just start fresh this year,’ and I’ve just kind of gone from there.”