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So far, so good for Kevin Shattenkirk's adjustment to the Capitals

So far, so good for Kevin Shattenkirk's adjustment to the Capitals

In 2009, Kevin Shattenkirk was in the Capitals locker room at Verizon Center as a member of the Boston Terriers playing in the Frozne Four. He holds fond memories of that time as he helped the Terriers win the tournament for a national championship.

Eight years later, Shattenkirk has another happy memory in his return to that locker room: His first home win with the Washington Capitals.

“Last time I was in here I think we were going really crazy after a win,” Shattenkirk said. “It was a heck of a day, but it's a lot of fun to just be back in here and experience that again.”

The stakes may not have been as high in Thursday’s game against the New Jersey Devils, but it was an important step for what the Capitals hope to be a championship season with their prized deadline acquisition settling into the lineup.

“Made some real good poise plays in tight areas,” Barry Trotz said after the game. “He wasn't being safe, he was actually a little more relaxed. I think it was good.”

RELATED: Caps outlast Devils to set franchise record

Shattenkirk continued what has appeared to be a rather seamless transition into the Capitals lineup, playing a team-high 21:24, including a whopping 7:23 on the power play, in his first home game as a Capital.

“I think whenever there's more minutes, especially on a power play, for a guy like me it helps me,” Shattenkirk said. “Just feeling the puck and starting to kind of get that back into my game during a game.”

When a defenseman leads the team in ice time for a game just two games after being acquired by that team, it shows a remarkable level of confidence by the coaching staff. Talking to his teammates, it’s easy to see why Trotz feels that way.

“He doesn't have any holes in his game,” Carlson said. “There's adjustments for sure that he's dealing with … but I think [it] helps feeling a part of us right away and then his skills can shine.”

“He's patient, he's a smart player,” Braden Holtby said. “He's very skilled. Obviously everyone sees the skill but he played with two different D partners he has never played with before and he looks like they've played together all year.”

Shattenkirk played alongside Brooks Orpik on the third pair in Orpik’s return from a lower-body injury. Those two are expected to remain a pair into the playoffs and they looked to be in sync together right away, though there remain a few kinks to work out.

“I think I was almost the recipient of some of his hits,” Shattenkirk said. “He flies around out there and lays his body on the line. Little things that we have to work out ourselves, little plays together. But all around, I know that I have a solid guy back there who can really cover for me whenever I need him to.”

All of this should be music to the ears of Capitals fans who have seen a parade of deadline acquisitions fizzle in the Alex Ovechkin era as they were unable to adjust to their new team.

It may be a small sample size, but two games in there seems to be no growing pains at all for a player the Caps hope will be a major key in a championship run.

That enthusiasm is shared by the fans.

In the first period of a sleepy game on Thursday that offered little to cheer about, the fans gave Shattenkirk a thunderous ovation when he was shown on the video screen during a stoppage in play.

“I've known that this fan base is great and they've supported this team for a long time,” Shattenkirk said, “But even a little thing like that, for a guy like me who hasn't been here before, it was very special and meant a lot to me.”

MORE CAPITALS: Jakub Vrana's power-play goal puts Caps up 1-0 over Devils

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NHL Power Rankings: No, the Capitals' season is not over

NHL Power Rankings: No, the Capitals' season is not over

Things have not been going well for the Capitals as of late. They have lost eight of their last 11 and five straight games for the first time since October-November 2014. They can’t score and are porous defensively. That’s not a good combination.

As a result, people are despairing. The team has no talent, the coaches have no idea what they’re doing and you can kiss the playoffs goodbye.

In this day and age, we all tend to be prisoners of the moment. Will the Capitals come close to winning the Stanley Cup the way they are playing right now? No, of course not. They look terrible.

B ut let’s not forget, it’s not like last season was without its challenges.

SEE THIS WEEK’S NHL POWER RANKINGS HERE 

On Nov. 14 and 16 in 2017, Washington suffered consecutive blowouts at the hands of Nashville and Colorado to drop their record down to 10-9-1. There was talk of whether Barry Trotz would even survive the season. But the Caps rallied.

F rom Feb. 2 on, Braden Holtby suddenly couldn’t stop a beach ball. He wasn’t even the Caps’ starter the first two games of the playoffs. He got back in net in Game 3 and was brilliant the rest of the playoffs.

D id anyone think Washington would win the Stanley Cup after getting blown out against the Predators and Avalanche? Did anyone think they would win when Holtby was struggling to stop anything in February?

No.

Heck, if you’re mad about how the Caps lost Sunday’s game in Chicago, they lost even worse to the Blackhawks last year 7-1 in February. I sure didn’t think I was watching a Cup winner at that point.

Washington is hardly the only team to suffer such a low point in their season. Look at some of the other contenders across the league. The Caps are only one point behind Toronto which has lost four of its last five, Pittsburgh went through a stretch in which it lost nine out of ten in October/November, Nashville lost six straight from Dec. 17 through Dec. 29, San Jose lost five out of six from Nov. 20 to Dec. 1 and Vegas started the season 9-12-1 before they finally turned things around. No one thinks those teams are done. So why should we write off the Caps?

Looking at the playoff race, Washington is only one point ahead of Pittsburgh for the last wild-card spot…but five points ahead of ninth-place Buffalo. The season is not lost…yet.
Every team has low points during the season, but it’s January.

There’s still a lot of hockey left to play.

SEE THIS WEEK’S NHL POWER RANKINGS HERE 

Here are a few recent observations and thoughts on the Caps.

  • The return of Barry Trotz came at a bad time for Washington. Because of how he has turned around the Islanders and how the Caps have struggled, that has led many to simply dismiss Todd Reirden as a head coach. Here’s what Reirden has had to deal with to start the season: A 20-game suspension (later reduced) to Tom Wilson, a lineup that has not been 100-percent available at any point this season, simultaneous injuries to Evgeny Kuznetsov, T.J. Oshie and Braden Holtby, a second injury to Holtby and prolonged injuries to Brooks Orpik and Christian Djoos. Plus, he’s had to navigate his team coming into a season as the defending champions for the first time in franchise history. The book on Reirden as a head coach is not going to be written based on a January slump. It’s going to be written based on what he does this season as a whole and, even more importantly, on what he does in the playoffs.
     
  • I have seen a few people wonder if the Caps should recall anyone from Hershey, but the simple fact of the matter is that the solution to Washington’s problems is not in the AHL. There are just no difference makers with the Bears right now and adding anyone would be a headache. The Caps have no cap room and two extra forwards already on the roster. To add anyone would mean sending someone back down and exposing them to waivers. Adding Nathan Walker or Shane Gersich to the bottom six is not going to make any difference if Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie can’t score.
     
  • Dmitrij Jaskin needs to stay in the lineup. He can’t finish, but no one can right now. Specifically, among bottom six players, Travis Boyd and Brett Connolly have only one goal in 12 games, Andre Burakovsky has not scored in his last 13, Nic Dowd in his last 16 and Devante Smith-Pelly in his last 23. So really, what offense are you losing by dressing Jaskin? Jaskin, Dowd and Boyd was a very solid line earlier in the season. While Reirden has the line blender out, why not try this one again?


It may be too early to give up on the Caps’ season, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t sinking the rankings.

Find out where they land here in this week’s NHL Power Rankings. 

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Defense optional as Caps handed 8-5 loss in Chicago

Defense optional as Caps handed 8-5 loss in Chicago

The Chicago Blackhawks handed the Capitals their fifth straight loss on Sunday in an ugly 8-5 defeat. All five of Washington's goals came from defensemen as the team's top forwards continued to struggle.

Here are five reasons the Caps lost.

Missed early opportunities

The game got off to a great start. Tom Wilson fed Jakub Vrana in the middle for a great early opportunity and Lars Eller had another shot with the rebound. Washington also got a power play less than two minutes into the game and was brilliant with the setup, keeping the puck in the zone for the full two minutes and getting a number of high-quality opportunities.

But they didn’t score and that soon loomed very large.

Brandon Saad put Chicago on the board 6:36 into the first and Patrick Kane scored 80 seconds later to make it 2-0, thus erasing the Caps’ strong start.

The goals have been hard to come by for the Caps so when they had the opportunity to take the early lead, they absolutely had to finish. They didn’t and the game got away from them as a result.

A bad play by Madison Bowey

Bowey will be cringing at the replay of the Saad goal for a while. Saad broke the puck out of the defensive zone and carried it into the neutral zone. Bowey had a bead on him until Saad cut to the center. Suddenly Bowey was caught flat footed. He reached for Saad with a weak stick check which Saad easily fought through with no real resistance and he was in on net. He finished the play with the game’s first goal.

 An own-goal

This was really the moment when you realized this was not going to be a good day for Washington.

Down 2-0, Brooks Orpik managed to sneak a softy through goalie Colin Delia to make it 2-1. Just 28 seconds later, however, bad luck struck the Caps yet again.

Dmitry Orlov and Jonathan Toews battled for the puck right in front of the crease and it bounced into he air. Orlov swiped at it with his glove to try to clear it from danger, but instead knocked it right over Holtby and into the net. The own goal made it 3-1 and signaled that Washington was in for a long day.

An ill-advised penalty

This game felt like it quickly was getting out of hand. Somehow, however, the Caps managed to keep things close. Dmitry Orlov snuck another squeaker through Delia in the second and John Carlson fired a one-timer early in the third to make the score 4-3. All of a sudden, the Caps had signs of life. With all the momentum on their side, however, Nicklas Backstrom was whistled for hooking Toews just 23 seconds later.

You could tell what was about to happen.

Sure enough, Kane scored 13 seconds into the power play to restore the Blackhawks’ two-goal lead.

The Toews hat trick

Once again, Washington tried to battle back. Matt Niskanen scored with just over six minutes remaining in the game, the fifth goal from a Caps’ defenseman, to pull the score to 6-5. Toews provided the coffin nail just over a minute later with an absolutely brutal play on Orlov.

Toews entered the offensive zone and Orlov took an awful approach. Toews finessed the puck right in front of Orlov which he should have been able to easily sweep away. Instead, he whiffed completely allowing Toews to regain the puck, step past Orlov and fired it under the pad and into the net.

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