Among the Capitals’ defensemen at Thursday’s morning skate leading up to the Capitals match-up against the Nashville Predators was Kevin Shattenkirk, casually ripping shots from the blue line from feeds from John Carlson.
Thursday night’s game will mark Shattenkirk’s first effort since his two-game suspension for a boarding penalty against Los Angeles Kings defenseman Kevin Gravel.
Shattenkirk, who has recorded four assists in his first six game with the Capitals, is eager to get back into the lineup to continue the Capitals’ push towards the playoffs.
“I think I’m looking to just jump right back into it,” Shattenkirk said. “I think I’ve just been trying to tell myself to make sure I’m playing the same way, not playing timid at all. I think, more importantly, just trying to jump right back in with these guys and give any sort of boost that I can. It was a huge win on Tuesday. It got me fired up and I wasn’t even playing. It was great to see these guys really come together and play a great game against a really good team.”
The suspension was difficult for Shattenkirk. He felt like he was finally beginning to catch a grove with his new team, understanding the defensive and offensive tendencies, as well as his role in the power play. By hitting the pause button on his season, Shattenkirk’s momentum may have slowed.
“It was tough, because I did feel like I was starting to get used to everything,” Shattenkirk said. “You know, luckily it wasn’t too long of a break, where I don’t feel like I lost too much. I felt good out there today working with the guys again, and we’re getting some power play reps in. I think tonight should be pretty seamless. The first couple of shifts, I just have to make sure I keep it simple.”
However, there are some benefits to taking a two-game hiatus. For starters, Shattenkirk was able to analyze his team from above in the press box, allowing him to see certain plays develop. Shattenkirk said he noticed how quickly the Capitals move the puck through the neutral zone, how the team moves the puck into the offensive zone as quickly as possible and how the forwards really drive towards the net.
“It’s good to watch the games and maybe go through some plays in your mind, and kind of figure out how you would do them yourself,” Shattenkirk said.
And while he would obviously rather have his top offensive defenseman in the lineup, Barry Trotz could see the positives behind the suspension.
“Looking from up top…the game’s totally different when you’re up in the press box versus behind the bench,” Trotz said. “It’s just looks different, everything is slowed down. It actually probably looks like more patterns to it from up there than from ice level. So maybe that helped him a little bit. Obviously seeing all the replays and watching it from there, you notice things that maybe haven’t been relaying to you. I don’t know if he benefited or not, but hopefully he did. I’ll say he did just because he didn’t play.”
If there’s any concern that Shattenkirk is going to put himself in that position again, there shouldn’t be. While Shattenkirk does have a physical element to his game, he knows how to toe the line. That suspension was also his first such suspension of his career.
“I think, in my whole career, I haven’t had really any hits like that before,” Shattenkirk said. “Really just kind of a blunder on my part. I don’t think that’s always present in my game. Really, I’m not too worried about making that sort of mistake again. And again, me playing aggressive is what makes me the player that I am. So I can’t lose that in my game. I have to make sure that stays there.”
With the insertion of Shattenkirk back into the lineup, Trotz was forced to adjust his defensive pairings. And while Trotz appeared to hint on Tuesday that Nate Schmidt would stay in the lineup following his goal and overall effort against the Minnesota Wild, he will be held out of the lineup in favor of the lefties in Karl Alzner, Dmitry Orlov and Brooks Orpik. Reality is, Schmidt is on the outside looking in.
“Our top six is what they are, you’ll see tonight, that’s our top six,” Trotz said. “Nate is seven. And what I said is he played very well and makes the decisions tougher. That’s his job as a player, and he’s in that seven hole, and that’s perfect. It puts pressure on everybody.”
Trotz sees a lot of value in Schmidt as a seventh defenseman. Schmidt, known for his infectious smile and personality, has continued being the fun-loving player that he is.
“He’s a pro,” Trotz said. “And that’s what you saw in his game. When he got an opportunity, and he’s going to get [more] opportunities because people are going to get hurt, he’ll jump in there and do a good job. You see how he works, keeps everything positive and he’s got a good skill set.”
Andre Burakovsky, who has been dealing with a hand injury, did participate in today’s morning skate, but he is still not expected to play. While the majority of the team headed to the locker room, Burakovsky, Schmidt and Taylor Chorney remained on the ice for extra work. Burakovsky was seen doing a heavy amount of board work, with both Schmidt and Chorney going hard against him in the corners. And they were working Burakovsky. After going several rounds against Chorney, Burakovsky yelled out “Oh my God” and took a knee, gasping for air.
According to Trotz, a decision hasn’t been made whether or not Burakovsky will travel to Tampa Bay over the weekend. However, a decision will likely be made during tomorrow’s morning skate, where Burakovsky is expected to be a full participant.
“I’m probably going to have a better idea tomorrow, probably before practice than after practice,” Trotz said. “He’s going to practice with us tomorrow and we’ll make that determination.”