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Shattenkirk is looking to fit in with the Caps...and get a little shut-eye

Shattenkirk is looking to fit in with the Caps...and get a little shut-eye

NEW YORK—Kevin Shattenkirk arrived at Madison Square Garden around 4 p.m. on Tuesday, running on adrenaline alone.

“I didn’t get much sleep,” the Capitals' newest player said before debuting against the Rangers. “I was thinking about everything under the sun. Even today during my pregame nap, it was more tossing and turning.”

Indeed, the 28-year-old defenseman has been through a lot over the last 24 hours.

He found out late Monday night—via social media, no less—that he had been traded from the Blues to the Capitals. He spent Tuesday morning making his way from St. Louis to the Capitals’ hotel in Manhattan. Then, after some quick hellos and a crash course on Washington's systems, he found himself in the lineup Tuesday night.

Shattenkirk, a pending unrestricted free agent, knew that he was likely to be moved prior to Wednesday’s 3 p.m. trade deadline. So the fact that he got traded wasn’t a huge surprise.

RELATED: Caps earn first win over Rangers with second period surge

He just had no idea it would be to the Caps. Or that he would find out on Twitter.

“Washington kind of really came out of nowhere in my mind,” Shattenkirk said. “It was a team I didn’t really have in my head. Obviously when the news was announced, it was very exciting for me because this is a great team.”

He added: “These days, just like everything else, I found out on social media. That’s when everything started to break. After that, you start to get some text messages. Then finally I spoke to [Blues General Manager] Doug Armstrong and then [Capitals General Manager] Brian MacLellan after that.”

Although the Caps are looking at Shattenkirk as the final piece to a championship puzzle, he says it's important to guard against trying to do more than is asked of him.

“In my mind, I don’t want to put too much pressure on myself,” he said. “They didn’t bring me in to save anything. They are the best team in the NHL right now. I just have to make sure I’m doing what I do best.”

Which, for Shattenkirk, means playing solidly in the defensive end while also producing on the power play. Entering Tuesday’s game, Shattenkirk was tied for third among defensemen in power play points (20).

He acknowledged that it’s going to take at least a couple of games to get comfortable with the Caps’ schemes and personnel. But it became obvious early in Tuesday's game that Coach Barry Trotz is not going to ease him into the flow. In fact, Shattenkirk was tasked with manning the point on the first unit power play and he looked quite comfortable feeding the puck to Alex Ovechkin in the circle.

“I’m really looking forward to it,” he said before the game, asked about playing alongside No. 8. “I’ve had a good couple of weapons in St. Louis for a long time. But [Ovechkin] is of the greatest goal scorers of all time. For me, I just need to learn how to make that pass and I think I’ll be alright.”

Overall, Shattenkirk enjoyed a solid first game in a Capitals sweater. He moved the puck quickly and decisively. He nearly set up Marcus Johansson with a cross ice pass early in the contest. His three shots on goal in the first period were more than anyone else on the ice. But the challenge of a joining a new team at the deadline was also apparent as a miscommunication with partner Nate Schmidt led to the Rangers’ first period goal.

Indeed, it’s going to take a little time for Shattenkirk to get fully integrated. 

“There’s a lot of new terminology, new systems,” Shattenkirk added. “I don’t think they’re expecting me to get it all done in 12 hours, 24 hours. It’s going to be a process. It’s going to be a couple of games for me to figure this out. Already I can see how great these guys are in the locker room and helpful they are. I’m looking forward to being able to bounce some ideas off guys and make sure I get this down as soon as possible.”

That, and getting a few hours of shut-eye.

“Hopefully when we get back to Washington I’ll be able to get some solid hours in,” he cracked.

MORE CAPITALS: Backstrom solidifies Trotz's 700th career win with PP goal

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Key Caps questions: Is Evgeny Kuznetsov a superstar?

Key Caps questions: Is Evgeny Kuznetsov a superstar?

The dog days of summer are officially here, but it's never too hot to talk some hockey.

Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir and Capitals correspondent JJ Regan are here to help you through the offseason doldrums. They will discuss key questions facing the Caps for the upcoming season as Washington prepares to defend its title for the first time in franchise history.

Today's question: Has Evgeny Kuznetsov made the jump from really good player to superstar?

Tarik: Yes, without a doubt, Evgeny Kuznetsov has made the leap from a very good player to a superstar.

And you know when it happened?

It happened over the course of 56 unforgettable days this past spring.

Kuzy has always possessed the talent to be one of the game’s most impactful players. His 83 regular season points, in fact, marked a career high and put him just inside the NHL’s top-20 in production.

He indeed had a very good regular season. But to me, superstars are the players who are in the national sports conversation. The guys who come to mind immediately when you think about a particular team. Guys who can single-handedly break open a game or a playoffs series. Guys who’ve received a major NHL award or have been recognized with a trip to the All-Star Game. For the Caps, those guys have been Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Braden Holtby for the last several years.

Kuznetsov, 26, became a member of that group in the playoffs.

Ovechkin took home the Conn Smythe Trophy, but it easily could have gone to Kuznetsov. I know because I wrestled with the decision to put Ovi over Kuzy for days prior to casting my vote.

Here’s why I had such a tough time:

  • Kuznetsov led the Stanley Cup-winning team (and the entire postseason) with 32 points…five more than Ovechkin.
  • Kuznetsov scored arguably the most important goal of the run…Game 6…in OT…vs. the archrival and two-time defending champion Penguins. Without that clutch tally, we’re having a different discussion today.
  • In addition to being the most productive Capital during the playoffs, I also felt he was the most consistent from game to game. In fact, Kuznetsov recorded at least a point in all but one of the Caps’ final 13 postseason contests. And that one game? Game 2 vs. Las Vegas, and he left after just a few shifts due to a shoulder injury.

Kuznetsov is no longer the dude who centers Ovi’s line. Kuznetsov is now his own dude. He’s progressed from a star-in-the-making to just a star.

And here’s the best part: when fans outside of Washington get a load of his, um, weirdly unique and outrageously funny personality, his popularity is going to explode.

JJ: Sorry Tarik, but you are wrong. Dead wrong.

Oops, I should clarify. You're not wrong about Kuznetsov being a superstar, you're wrong because it didn't happen last spring. He already was one.

I don't know what people have been watching over the past few years, but in my book, Kuznetsov graduated from very good to superstar a long time ago, it just took the 2018 playoff run for most people to notice.

Perhaps we have a different definition of "superstar." To me, national recognition has no bearing on whether a player is a superstar talent. Heck, Backstrom has been a superstar for years with hardly any recognition at all. Maybe expectations were high for Kuznetsov given how long Washington had to wait to get him out of Russia and how good he was in the KHL and because of that, people withheld praise. But the fact is he has shown throughout his career, and not just last spring, that he is a superstar.

At the age of 22, Kuznetsov had a breakout performance in the 2015 playoffs with five goals and seven points in 14 games. We all remember his series-clinching goal against the Penguins, but that was not his first. He also scored another clutch, series-clinching goal in Game 7 against the New York Islanders in 2015. During this year's playoff run, I asked him a question about the Pittsburgh overtime goal and I called it the biggest of his career. He corrected me and told me he still considered the game-winner against Jaroslav Halak and the Islanders to be his biggest.

In only his second full season in the league, Kuznetsov rattled off 77 points to lead the Caps. He finished tied for ninth in the entire NHL that year ahead of other superstars like Vladimir Tarasenko, Anze Kopitar, Tyler Seguin and two guys named Ovechkin and Backstrom.

Yes, there was the year in which he managed only two points in 12 playoff games, but his repeated success to this point in his career shows that postseason was very much the exception and not the norm.

So to answer the question, yes, Kuznetsov is absolutely a superstar. It just took awhile for people to notice.

Other key questions

How will the Caps look different under Todd Reirden?
Will the Caps suffer a Stanley Cup hangover?
Can Alex Ovechkin still challenge for another Rocket Richard Trophy?

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Alex Ovechkin takes home ESPY for Best Male Athlete

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Alex Ovechkin takes home ESPY for Best Male Athlete

Alexander Ovechkin's offseason continues to be one for the books. 

Just a week removed from celebrating with the Stanley Cup in Moscow, Ovechkin was named Best Male Athlete Wednesday night at the 2018 ESPYs. 

The 32-year-old is the first NHL player to win the award since it was first introduced in 1993. 

"The Great Eight" beat out Jose Altuve of the Houston Astros, James Harden of the Houston Rockets and Tom Brady of the New England Patriots. 

Ovechkin was not in Los Angeles to accept the award.