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Behind The Numbers

Kevin Shattenkirk fills key role for Capitals

Newly acquired defenseman counted on to have significant offensive impact

by Rob Vollman / Correspondent

The Washington Capitals filled a very important role with the acquisition of defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk in a trade from the St. Louis Blues on Monday.

Shattenkirk, 28, will most likely be used in a very specific offense-oriented role, and, as such, should have success in boosting scoring from the blue line.

For comparison sake, Shattenkirk could have a similar impact on the Capitals that Mike Green had before he moved to Detroit Red Wings after the 2014-15 season. Green played for Washington from 2005-06 season until 2015, when he signed with the Red Wings as an unrestricted free agent.

Shattenkirk, along with goalie Pheonix Copley, were acquired in exchange for a 2017 first-round pick, conditional draft picks and forwards Zach Sanford and Brad Malone.

Offensively, Shattenkirk is having another impressive season. His 42 points (11 goals, 31 assists) in 61 games are tied with Duncan Keith of the Chicago Blackhawks for fourth among defensemen. Shattenkirk, Keith, and Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators are the only defensemen to score at least 40 points in six of the past seven seasons.

Adjusting his scoring totals for opportunity, Shattenkirk has scored 0.69 points per game this season, and 1.12 points per 60 minutes at even strength, according to the calculations at Hockey Analysis. That ranks No. 5 and No. 31, respectively, among defensemen who have played at least 200 minutes.

Video: Elliotte Friedman on the Kevin Shattenkirk trade

Shattenkirk's scoring closely matches Green's in his final three seasons with the Capitals. From 2012-13 to 2014-15, Green scored 109 points (31 goals, 78 assists) in 177 games, which is 0.62 points per game, and works out to 1.12 points per 60 minutes at even strength.

In each player's case, correct deployment likely played a part in scoring success. Statistically, Shattenkirk and Green each have all the classic hallmarks of a player deployed primarily in offensive situations.

In terms of special-teams usage, Shattenkirk averages 3:07 per game on the power play this season, and 0:22 killing penalties. In 2014-15, Green's averages were 2:45 and 0:33, respectively.

At even strength, Shattenkirk led Blues defensemen in average ice time when the team was down by two or more goals, but ranks no higher than fourth at any other game-score situation, according to the data compiled at Hockey Viz. In 2014-15, Green ranked second when the Capitals were down by at least two goals, and fifth in all other score situations.

Each player is used primarily in the offensive zone at even strength and matched against secondary opponents. Deployed with Carl Gunnarsson, Robert Bortuzzo, or Brad Hunt on a secondary pairing, Shattenkirk started 325 shifts in the offensive zone and 241 in the defensive zone at even strength for this season, a zone-start percentage of 57.42 percent that ranks No. 27 among the 213 defensemen to play at least 20 games. In 2014-15, Green had a zone-start percentage of 59.24 percent while playing on a secondary pairing with Tim Gleason, Nate Schmidt or Jack Hillen.

Assuming coach Barry Trotz continues to use Shattenkirk as he was used by coach Mike Yeo and former coach Ken Hitchcock in St. Louis, and how Trotz used Green in 2014-15, Shattenkirk should continue to have the same offensive impact.

What could that mean to the team down the stretch and into the Stanley Cup Playoffs?

In the 2016 playoffs, John Carlson tied Alex Ovechkin for the team lead with 12 points (five goals, seven assists) in 12 games, but Washington's remaining defensemen combined for eight points, all assists. The Capitals were eliminated in the Eastern Conference Second Round by the Pittsburgh Penguins in six games.

That's where the Capitals are hoping the similarity between Shattenkirk and Green will end. In the 2014-15 playoffs, Green scored two points (two assists) in 14 games, partly because his ice time was cut when Trotz chose to lean on more reliable defensive players such as Carlson, Matt Niskanen, Brooks Orpik and Karl Alzner.

Trotz may test Shattenkirk with a more challenging two-way role down the stretch in order to determine how much he can be safely deployed in close games during the postseason. If he gains Trotz's trust, then Shattenkirk may be able to provide the Capitals with the last bit of scoring that could put them over the top and bring the Stanley Cup to Washington for the first time in franchise history.

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