NHL.com's Q&A feature called "Five Questions With …" runs throughout the 2018-19 regular season. We talk to key figures in and around the game and ask them questions to gain insight into their lives, careers and the most recent news.
The latest edition features New York Rangers defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, who is in the second season of a four-year contract he signed July 1, 2017.
NEW YORK -- The mental break Kevin Shattenkirk got earlier in the season clearly worked for the New York Rangers defenseman.
Shattenkirk was a healthy scratch against the San Jose Sharks on Oct. 11, four days after he played 7:29 in an 8-5 loss at the Carolina Hurricanes.
It was the latest blow for the 29-year-old, who fulfilled a dream of playing for his hometown team (Shattenkirk is from New Rochelle, New York) by joining the Rangers as a free agent July 1, 2017, only to miss the final 38 games of last season because the injured knee he had been playing on since training camp required surgery.
But Shattenkirk has been arguably the steadiest defenseman this season for the Rangers (13-10-2), even if his offensive production isn't at the level he or anyone expects it to be at, since watching one game from the press box.
Video: NYR@DET: Shattenkirk nets top-shelf wrister for PPG
Shattenkirk has played in all 21 games since, averaging 19:08 of ice time. He has eight points (one goal, seven assists) and is plus-2 in that span.
Coach David Quinn noted the best part of his game is how he is defending, especially down low, with confidence and strong body and stick position.
"He's almost back from a mental standpoint to being 100 percent, where he should be," Quinn said. "We're 20-plus games into it and I think he's very, very close to being the offensive player we know he's capable of being. He's had chances where we just maybe haven't been opportunistic with, but I'm certainly happy with the direction of his game overall."
Shattenkirk clearly is too.
Here are Five Questions with … Kevin Shattenkirk:
You're not putting up the same numbers you have in the past and probably the numbers you expect from yourself, especially considering you averaged about 47 points per season in the four seasons before you got to New York. But I wonder how you feel about your overall game and if that is satisfactory?
"I feel it's probably close to the best I've been playing in my career. I feel like on the defensive side of things I'm anticipating plays quicker, I'm skating a lot better. I think that's really what has changed, I'm really trusting myself and my skating to have good gaps and not worry about getting beat so much, to be a little bit more aggressive. That's what you have to do today because guys are so much faster and can get to their top speed so much quicker. Looking at the last couple games, I've had chances, offensive chances. When those aren't coming that's when you really start to question yourself, but we're starting to find our groove on our power-play unit and once that starts to come along that's when really for me the points start to pour in."
Is it a mindset change for you? I ask because when you got to New York and even before in St. Louis you had to hear it too, people saying your offensive game is there, the power-play numbers are great, but also wondering about your defensive game. Have you switched your mindset to focus on defending?
"Definitely not. No. I think I've always known when I defend well how to do it, how I've done it. I think with last year, with the injury and leading up to it, I was really, really guarding myself on the ice from my skating. I had to. I didn't have the speed like I do now. When I'm playing my best I like to say I'm playing defense with my offense. I'm jumping in rushes and pinning that line in their defensive zone. That's always my mentality, to get pucks out of our zone quickly and join the rush. I just think with [Quinn] and [Rangers assistant] Lindy [Ruff], this year we've really just sat down and looked at some clips good and bad, and they've just distinguished this is you playing hard in the defensive zone and this is what we want to see out of you. That's been the clarification and the way we've been able to have an open forum is great."
Video: NYR@SJS: Shattenkirk buries backhander to earn SO win
Was coming back from your injury and surgery harder than you thought it was going to be?
"I think it was harder for me to accept that it just wasn't there right away. Coming into the season I felt like there were no stones left unturned over the summer, that I did everything I needed to do in the weight room and on the ice. But when you get to game speed you realize that that's a step you have to take. What was going on with me was not having played a game since January, I wanted to come back and have this huge comeback right away, the first five games. Things don't always go that way for you or from the team perspective. It was very frustrating for me to not just have everything fall into place, but it was another moment where I just needed to take a deep breath. The game I sat out was huge. That was the moment where the two of them [Quinn and Ruff] just sat me down and said, 'Hey, look, this is what you're not doing.' "
We hear that a lot about sitting out a game, how much it helps a player. Why does that one game make a difference? Why did it make a difference for you?
"The game before that in Carolina we went to seven 'D'. It never works and for whatever reason I was the guy that got the shaft. That was, one, kind of an embarrassing moment for me to be on the bench, playing that little time. Two, it was a moment that I knew they weren't happy with what I was doing. Three, I had to look at my game. That's when you take those two or three days to really look yourself in the mirror. I felt like I was maybe fooling myself a little bit and I just needed to watch a game. Sometimes when you watch a game and you put yourself in that situation from the top things seem a little bit easier, but it's slower and easier for you to comprehend it so when you go out there the next game you're able to put it into place. In that regard, it helped me."
As a team, are the Rangers better than even the Rangers thought they'd be?
"I don't think we're better than we thought we'd be, I think we're the team that we expected ourselves to be. It's early in the season right now and what we've talked about through training camp and early in the season was we are going to rely on our work ethic, and that's what we're doing. The skill that we have on the team, people don't give that the respect I think it deserves. We're not a team that has all-stars. We have a lot of good players on our team who can make it hard on teams night in and night out, but when we don't work hard that's when we're going to be on the wrong end of things. Obviously, we're young and everyone talks about that, but the big thing for us is going forward now teams are going to know who we are. We're definitely showing the League who we are and impressing some teams, but that's when it starts to get harder. That's where we're going to have to really figure out if we're the team that we think we are."
Video: COL@NYR: Shattenkirk beats Varlamov stick-side in SO