GREENBURGH, N.Y. —Saturday night’s matchup against the Islanders in Bridgeport, Connecticut, won’t be just another preseason game for Rangers defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk.
“I’m really looking forward to it,’’ Shattenkirk said Friday as the Rangers returned to practice following Thursday’s day off. “It’s just something that I haven’t been able to experience in a long time. I think I remember what it feels like, but we’ll see once we get out there.’’
The game will be the first for Shattenkirk since he had surgery in January to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee. And you know what he’s most looking forward to in his return? Getting checked.
“I think, honestly, getting hit is something that I’m looking for,’’ he said. “Until you actually play in a game and get bumped a little bit, you really don’t understand the intensity of the game and the timing of it and how fast you have to make plays.’’
Shattenkirk, 29, signed a four-year, $26 million free agent deal to join the Rangers before last season, but he was injured during training camp. He had a cortisone shot, which helped numb the pain for a few months, but the injury kept getting worse, he said, and he struggled badly. He ended up playing in 46 games, scoring five goals, with 18 assists and a team-worst -14 at the time he was shut down.
Now, Shattenkirk said his knee is sound. The surgery removed the torn cartilage and now the left knee feels as good and as strong as the right one, he said. He can actually bend his knees now, something he had trouble doing a year ago. He has more power in his stride, he said, and, “I’m skating strong, hard and powerful. And that’s a comforting feeling.’’
Despite his being out of action for so long, Shattenkirk still managed to take a leadership role in the locker room, helping the young defensemen on the squad figure out how to play and to carry themselves at the NHL level. Now that he is poised to get back in action, his task, as he sees it, is to prove to Ranger fans that he is a better player than what he showed last season.
“I feel like I’m — I haven’t shown who I really am,’’ he said. “I feel like I had glimpses of it early, but not many. I don’t want to say I’m starting off with a clean slate, because I’m not. I don’t think last year is erased from everyone’s memory, and it shouldn’t be. I do feel like I have something to prove.’’
Notes & quotes: F Ryan Spooner, who left Wednesday’s game with hip strain, practiced Friday and is fine, coach David Quinn said.