The acquisition of Kevin Shattenkirk, brought in via trade by the Washington Capitals on February 28th, has created some interesting opportunities and problems for Barry Trotz and his coaching staff to wade through, as the NHL’s regular season approaches its end.
Considered by most as the best prize available at the trade deadline, the Capitals were a surprise recipient of Shattenkirk’s talents. Given that the team lead all NHL clubs in points, Washington was not expected to make a splash at the deadline, especially given that their moves last year didn’t really pan out all that well for them in the long run.
But Washington General Manager Brian MacLellan, like any good personnel executive, was clearly looking to boost the team’s depth along the blue line, to ensure this team will be able to hold its own during the postseason. In last year’s postseason, Brooks Orpik missed time due to a concussion and subsequent suspension. Dmitri Orlov and Nate Schmidt suffered through mental mistakes in the Capitals series against Pittsburgh, which led to goals scored by the Penguins. That forced Trotz to juggle his blueline pairings, and even bench Schmidt for a game. Karl Alzer tore his groin in the last game of the Pittsburgh series as well. In other words, this team was far from content in trying for one last Stanley Cup run, with their current group of defensemen.
Shattenkirk is, without question, a top defenseman for any team in the NHL. With his arrival in Washington, he’s already the best puck-moving defenseman on the roster. He drives possession when on the ice better than anyone else the Capitals have, and he has taken over as the sole defenseman on the Capitals’ top Power Play unit.
But even with all the good qualities Shattenkirk brings, the question is: how fast can he acclimate to a team with legitimate title aspirations? He himself admitted that it’s going to take some time to adjust to his new team, and their system as it is different than what he was running in St. Louis. Sure, he’s already shown flashes of brilliance in his passing in his short time in Washington, but he’s also had some mental gaffes as well, getting caught up ice and giving up odd-man rushes.
Plus, there’s always the locker room chemistry issue. Shattenkirk has bumped John Carlson off the top power play unit, a spot that he’s held since Mike Green left Washington; will this affect Carlson’s overall play down the stretch? Shattenkirk has also bumped Schmidt down to the 7th defenseman spot; will that affect the young defenseman’s confidence moving forward?
While there are still questions to be answered with Shattenkirk’s arrival, especially given that the Capitals have played their worst stretch of hockey in recent memory. If he can get into a groove with his new team and start reacting to the plays rather than thinking and processing before he makes them, he’ll give the Capitals tremendous depth and options on defense heading into the playoffs. But Trotz still has the difficult job of using the right defensive personnel in the right situations, to help this team win, show to his other players that he’s putting the right guys in to win, and to walk the fine line of not injuring the egos of his current group of guys.