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Shattenkirk hoping to lead Rangers past Capitals

Defenseman happy in New York after frustrating time in Washington last season

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

ARLINGTON, Va. -- When the Washington Capitals acquired Kevin Shattenkirk in a trade from the St. Louis Blues on Feb. 27, they hoped the 28-year-old defenseman would be the final piece to their Stanley Cup puzzle.

It didn't work out that way, leaving them and Shattenkirk, who signed a four-year contract as an unrestricted free agent with the New York Rangers on July 1, disappointed. 

Some of those feelings were revived Thursday with Shattenkirk and the Rangers in town to face the Capitals at Capital One Arena on Friday (7 p.m. ET; NHLN, SN, TVA Sports, NBCSWA, MSG, NHL.TV).

"It didn't work out," Shattenkirk said after practicing with the Rangers at Kettler Capitals Iceplex on Thursday. "We didn't win."

Shattenkirk remembered how excited he was when he came to the Capitals along with goaltender Pheonix Copley in exchange for forwards Zach Sanford and Brad Malone, a first-round pick in the 2017 NHL Draft and conditional draft picks. (None of those conditions were met, so those draft picks weren't exchanged.) Being traded to the Capitals, who were on their way to winning the Presidents' Trophy for the second consecutive season, appeared to give Shattenkirk his best chance at winning the Stanley Cup.

Video: CBJ@NYR: Shattenkirk wires in PPG from the point

"At the time, when you looked at the roster and, obviously, the position in the standings, it seemed like it was one of the best teams I've been a part of," Shattenkirk said. "I had played on some great teams in St. Louis as well. You always want to make sure you have a chance, and I felt like when we got here, the sky was the limit for us."

The Capitals, who haven't advanced past the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs since their lone Stanley Cup Final appearance in 1998, hoped adding Shattenkirk would put them over the top. A skilled, puck-moving defenseman with a right-handed shot, Shattenkirk gave them arguably the deepest defense in the NHL, joining a group that included John Carlson, Matt Niskanen, Dmitry Orlov, Karl Alzner, Brooks Orpik and Nate Schmidt. 

But the Capitals again fell short of expectations, losing to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference Second Round for the second season in a row. 

"It was tough," Shattenkirk said. "There's obviously been a lot of tough losses here in the past, and I think we were just a little tight in the playoffs. Nothing really clicked and we didn't really seem to hit on all cylinders all of the time. That was frustrating for a lot of us."

Because of their depth, the Capitals used Shattenkirk mostly in their third defense pair with either Orpik or Schmidt at even strength, but he ran the point on their first power-play unit. The results were mixed.

Shattenkirk had 14 points (two goals, 12 assists) in 19 regular-season games with the Capitals and six points (one goal, five assists) in 13 games in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. His highlight was scoring in overtime in Game 3 in Pittsburgh.

But Shattenkirk struggled at times defensively, particularly during the Capitals' six-game win against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round. He played better later against the Penguins, after he was paired with Schmidt.

Capitals coach Barry Trotz said on Thursday it took some time for Shattenkirk to adjust after the trade because their system was a little different than the one he played in with the Blues.

"It worked in areas that we wanted. He helped our power play. He made it more dangerous and that," Trotz said. "I think everybody thought of him as a 1-2 [defenseman], and he really wasn't. He was a little lower. … But I think overall he was fine."

Shattenkirk has heard people say he's not a top-pair defenseman before. He plays in the Rangers' second pair with Brady Skjei, and runs their first power-play unit, and would love to show Trotz and others who have doubted him that they're wrong.

"I mean, it doesn't sit well with you," Shattenkirk said of Trotz's assessment. "It's nothing that you enjoy hearing, but I think there's a lot of people who probably think that about me. I like to use that in my favor and try to use that as something to just keep me [motivated] and prove people wrong."

A native of New Rochelle, New York, Shattenkirk dreamed of playing for the Rangers when he was growing up and, after signing the contract worth $6.65 million per season, is enjoying living that dream. After a 3-7-2 start, the Rangers are 15-10-2 with 32 points, three behind the Capitals. They are 6-1-0 in their past seven games. 

Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said Shattenkirk has been "exactly what we thought." He has 20 points (five goals, 15 assists), which has him on pace to finish with 61. That would exceed his career-high of 56 (13 goals, 43 assists) from last season with St. Louis and Washington. He has nine points (two goals, seven assists) on the power play. 

Video: CAR@NYR: Grabner scores off Shattenkirk's great pass

"I got a real taste of New York and the fans and the media early on, but I think it was a good experience for me," Shattenkirk said. "I think that's something you have to deal with in a bigger market. And the way that we've been playing as of late, I love the direction that we're heading in. 

"It took a little while for me to figure out how I would fit into this team and how I can play my game within the system, but I feel very comfortable there now."

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