WASHINGTON — In a city that thrives on debate, Kevin Shattenkirk’s place in an NHL lineup is hardly fodder for a Senate subcommittee or the floor of the House. But in hockey circles, why not?
Is the long-time Blues defenseman — who played 19 regular-season and 13 playoff games with the Capitals last season and signed a four-year, $26.6-million contract with the Rangers during the summer — a first-pair blueliner?
Depends whom you ask.
Capitals coach Barry Trotz doesn’t think so.
“I think everybody thought of him as a 1-2, and he really wasn’t. He was a little lower,” Trotz said Thursday after practice, a remark that stung Shattenkirk.
When told of Trotz’s comment, Shattenkirk, who will face his previous club for the first time on Friday night, took the high road. He didn’t rip his former coach or disagree.
“It doesn’t sit well with you. It’s nothing that you enjoy hearing,” said Shattenkirk, 28, who has primarily played on the Rangers’ second pairing, “but I think there’s a lot of people who probably think that about me, and I like to use that in my favor and something to boost me to prove people wrong.”
There’s no argument that Shattenkirk can create offense and quarterback a power play because his career numbers (73 goals, 318 points, including 37 goals and 118 assists with the man advantage) underscore that. But he acknowledges that his defensive play can improve and earn him the reputation as an elite all-around defenseman.
“There’s a lot more room for me to grow,” he said. “I have to handle those top-end matchups a little bit better, and when I get those opportunities, I really have to make sure I make them count. A guy like Ryan McDonagh is a good example for me, a guy I try to watch, the way he handles players, like the Ovechkins and the Backstroms and Crosbys. That’s something that I’m still working towards, but I think I can get there.”
Shattenkirk has played primarily on the second pair for the Rangers, most recently with Brady Skjei, and has five goals and 20 points in 27 games. “He’s exactly what we expected him to be,” coach Alain Vigneault said.
Vigneault initially deployed Shattenkirk with McDonagh and said the duo could be reunited eventually. “Right now, it’s Shatty with Brady,’’ he said. “I’m not afraid to match that up against the top line or the third or fourth lines, because it maybe gets us more looks offensively.”
The Capitals, who led the NHL with 118 points last season, were eliminated in the second round of the playoffs, and the finger-pointing hasn’t stopped.
“I think he [Shattenkirk] had a patch during the one series [against Toronto] where it wasn’t really good,” Trotz said Thursday. “I think he regained it and scored a big goal for us in Pittsburgh [in overtime in Game 3]. I just think, yeah, the first playoff series wasn’t . . . that’s what you remember. It sticks out. But I think overall he was fine.”
Said Shattenkirk, “It didn’t work out. We didn’t win. We were just a little tight and nothing really clicked. That was frustrating for a lot of us. We felt the sky was the limit.”
Notes & quotes: Henrik Lundqvist has recovered from the flu, which forced him to sit against Pittsburgh on Tuesday. He practiced, felt “back to normal” and will start Friday.