PITTSBURGH— Over the past three games, Kevin Shattenkirk has been one of the Caps’ most productive players.
The defenseman scored the overtime winner in Game 3, then he recorded assists in Games 4 and 5, including the primary helper on Andre Burakovsky’s strike Saturday night at Verizon.
The three-game point streak equals the longest of Shattenkirk’s playoff career, while his six points (one goal, five assists) lead all Caps’ blue liners.
Shattenkirk’s recent run stands in stark contrast to his play in the Caps’ first eight postseason games. In those contests, the 28-year-old had three points and a NHL worst plus/minus rating of -7. He’s a combined + 5 in Games 3, 4 and 5.
MORE CAPS: Pens lose another defenseman for Game 6
So what’s changed? Quite a bit, actually.
“I’ve added a little more physicality to my game,” said Shattenkirk, who noticeably targeted Penguins forward Chris Kunitz with a series of hits on a shift in the second period in Game 5. “That seems to get you involved. It gets your senses kind of heightened and your blood rushing. And I think for me, it was making a couple of simple passes, getting a few shots on net, really just doing a few little things that are important in my game and then you start feeling a little more comfortable.”
Shattenkirk also simplified things mentally.
“I was putting too much pressure on myself,” the high-profile trade deadline addition added. “If I’m trying to play outside of what I’m capable of, I’m no good to this team. And I think that was a big problem for me.”
Coach Barry Trotz credited Shattenkirk with figuring out how to hit the reset button mid-round, which is often easier said than done.
“He sort of went into a reset mode,” Trotz said. “The biggest thing is that he’s moving his feet. He’s making the right play, whatever the play is for that situation.”
Trotz added: “He’s not trying to force things. I think was trying to force some things that weren’t there. He was not playing that game that was presented to him.”
Shattenkirk also credited his turnaround to a coaching adjustment. Since Game 4 of this series, he’s been paired primarily with smooth-skating Nate Schmidt. Shattenkirk opened the postseason skating with the more physical Brooks Orpik.
“In Game 4, I got to play more of a regular shift with Schmitty and that really drove my game,” Shattenkirk. “He’s someone who gets involved offensively. It forced me to keep up with him, get up in the rush and keep my gaps tight. Really, I think he’s the one that’s helped me out the most.”
MORE CAPS: Backstrom saved the series in Game 5