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Pressure on Capitals higher than ever

After trading for Kevin Shattenkirk, coach Barry Trotz has to deliver for Washington

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

NEW YORK -- Barry Trotz is in his 18th season as an NHL coach, but with Kevin Shattenkirk now on the Washington Capitals he has never had a team with expectations as high.

"It's a privilege to have pressure," Trotz said. "That's how we look at it."

Persevering through that pressure is the challenge facing Trotz, who got his 700th NHL win when the Capitals defeated the New York Rangers 4-1 at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday.

The Capitals acquired Shattenkirk, the best rental player available on the market in advance of the 2017 NHL Trade Deadline (3 p.m. ET, March 1), in a trade with the St. Louis Blues on Monday.

Shattenkirk made his Capitals debut against the Rangers, finishing with four shots on goal in 17:57 of ice time. It was a good beginning to a run that is supposed to end with a Stanley Cup championship parade in D.C.

If it does, Trotz will be as big of a reason as anybody else. If it doesn't, he may regret the great opportunity that got away for the rest of his life, because teams like the one the Capitals have this season don't come along too often.

They are loaded with talent, depth and experience throughout the lineup, even to the point that their backup goalie, Philip Grubauer, is one of the best backup goalies in the NHL. Shattenkirk, for as good as he is, is going to play third-pair minutes at even strength for the time being.

Alex Ovechkin. Braden Holtby. Nicklas Backstrom. T.J. Oshie. Evgeny Kuznetsov. Marcus Johansson. Justin Williams. John Carlson. Matt Niskanen. Karl Alzner. The list goes on.

Washington is first in the League in points (91), third in goals per game (3.32), first in goals against per game (2.08), fifth in power play (22.1 percent) and sixth in penalty kill (84.1 percent).

"We have to go farther," Trotz said.

Video: Cup-hungry Capitals make final push towards playoffs

The Capitals felt the pressure to go on a deep Stanley Cup Playoff run last season, when they won the Presidents' Trophy with 120 points. However, expectations weren't what they are now because they didn't make a big splash before the trade deadline and they limped into the playoffs, going 3-3-3 in the final 16 days of the season.

Washington defeated the Philadelphia Flyers in six games in the Eastern Conference First Round but lost in six games to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round. It was a disappointment. It wasn't a surprise. The Penguins were rolling, the Capitals were not.

The season before, Trotz's first in Washington, was more about rebuilding a winning culture than about winning a championship. The Capitals again got through the first round, defeating the New York Islanders in seven games, but they lost in the second round to the Rangers in seven games.

It was disappointing but not crushing considering they didn't make the playoffs the prior season.

Trotz had successful regular seasons during his 15 with the Nashville Predators, including four seasons of 100 or more points. They finished with 106 points in the 2005-06 season and a Nashville-record 110 in the 2006-07 season.

But even in those years it felt like winning in the playoffs would be gravy on top of a phenomenal regular season. The pressure wasn't ratcheted up. The expectations weren't high like they are on Washington now. Nashville didn't make it out of the first round in either season.

"The experience I've had and the experiences our players have gone through, I think that makes us more equipped to accept the pressure and the challenges," Trotz said. "That's what experience does, it allows you to filter out all the unnecessary stuff. We've got an experienced group that keeps learning, even from the regular seasons, the playoffs, the disappointments and all that. You have to go through that to sort of find your way."

Video: Friedman talks Shattenkirk trade with NHL Tonight

Part of the reason the Capitals believe they can find their way this season is because of the coach guiding them.

"He's honest and he'll tell us how it is," Niskanen said of Trotz. "He'll keep us humble but confident."

Niskanen spoke as he wore a shirt with a slogan that read "WILL OVER SKILL." It was a training camp motto that came directly from Trotz, Niskanen said.

"There's no slacking with him," Niskanen said. "You're going to bring your work boots and play the game a certain style with him. He demands that of you, which is what you want. You want everybody accountable to a certain style that gives us a chance."

The Capitals have never had a better chance to win the Stanley Cup than they do this season. But with that comes expectations they've never faced before, pressure unlike any they have seen. There's no dancing around it with the arrival of Shattenkirk.

"I don't know how it plays itself out, but I think we've done as much as we can do to help us be successful moving forward," general manager Brian MacLellan said.

MacLellan was clear on what determines a successful playoffs for the Capitals this season.

"Winning a championship," he said.

It's on Trotz to deliver it.

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