Trad­ing Shat­tenkirk has not slowed Blues

The Washington Times Daily - - SPORTS - BY STEPHEN WHYNO

Know­ing Kevin Shat­tenkirk wasn’t in their long-term plans, the St. Louis Blues traded the tal­ented de­fense­man and braced for the im­me­di­ate blow to their play­off hopes.

That never hap­pened. The Blues ac­tu­ally got bet­ter with­out him.

When the Blues dealt the pend­ing free agent at the trade dead­line, they seemed to be cre­at­ing a giant void on their blue line and gift-wrap­ping the NHL-best Washington Cap­i­tals with their deep­est de­fense in a decade. Yet St. Louis has thrived thanks to the el­e­vated play of cap­tain Alex Pi­etrangelo and sec­ond-year de­fense­man Colton Parayko while Shat­tenkirk plays a lim­ited, spe­cial­ized role for Washington.

With Pi­etrangelo tak­ing over top power-play du­ties, Parayko pitch­ing in and 6-foot-4, 221-pound Robert Bor­tuzzo pro­vid­ing some bulk on the back end, the new-look Blues cruised into the sec­ond round with a 4-1 se­ries win over Min­nesota and haven’t missed a beat with­out Shat­tenkirk.

“We’re big­ger, all six guys are big men, and now we have two play­ers that play with a lit­tle more nasty than we had when we had five guys that played one way and sort of Joel Ed­mund­son do­ing the ma­jor­ity of the phys­i­cal work,” gen­eral man­ager Doug Arm­strong said. “Now we have two play­ers that are bring­ing some of that phys­i­cal play.”

Arm­strong won’t mince words: He didn’t trade Shat­tenkirk to shake things up. He dealt the 28-year-old for picks and young for­ward Zach San­ford be­cause there was no chance of re-sign­ing him this sum­mer.

On the flip side, Cap­i­tals gen­eral man­ager Brian MacLel­lan only got in­volved in the bid­ding when it be­came clear Shat­tenkirk was a rental and not long-term com­mit­ment.

Af­ter be­ing a top-four de­fense­man in St. Louis, Shat­tenkirk is a third-pair­ing player and power-play spe­cial­ist for Washington. He was among the team lead­ers in over­all min­utes in Games 1 and 2 be­fore hav­ing his ice time slashed to a ca­reer play­off low 12:54 in Game 4 and rank­ing fifth or six on the Cap­i­tals’ blue line the re­main­der of their first round se­ries against Toronto.

Shat­tenkirk said he’s fine with that and doesn’t need an ex­pla­na­tion from coach Barry Trotz, who called ice time “ir­rel­e­vant” to play­ers this time of year. He’s still on the top power-play unit, is counted on to feed Alex Ovechkin the puck from the point in cru­cial si­t­u­a­tions and leads Cap­i­tals de­fense­men with three points.

But he’s not in St. Louis any­more. “I do think that we roll our D pair­ings a lit­tle bit more here, and every­one gets to play a reg­u­lar shift for the most part,” Shat­tenkirk said. “St. Louis, we were a lit­tle more re­liant on our top two guys of play­ing the big-time min­utes, and then power plays and penalty kills kind of de­ter­mined where the rest of us played more or played less.”

Say­ing so long to Shat­tenkirk shifted the big-time min­utes on the right side to Pi­etrangelo and Parayko. Ranked 26th among NHL de­fense­men in points and 11th in ice time be­fore the Shat­tenkirk trade, Pi­etrangelo was sec­ond with 18 points and fourth at 26:35 a game af­ter it.

Thrown into tougher si­t­u­a­tions than his first play­offs last sea­son, Parayko has grown up fast with­out Shat­tenkirk around.

“It’s good for me,” the 23-year-old said as the Blues pre­pared to face the Nashville Preda­tors. “I think that’s the best way to do it, get in there and learn from ex­pe­ri­ence.”

Even the ex­pe­ri­enced Blues de­fense­men like Jay Bouwmeester and Carl Gun­nars­son have thrived since the trade. Part of it is the struc­ture of Mike Yeo, who re­placed Ken Hitch­cock as coach in early Fe­bru­ary, but the de­fen­sive im­prove­ments have made up for the loss of Shat­tenkirk’s of­fen­sive tal­ent that will earn him a big con­tract some­where July 1.

“De­fen­sively I think we’re sound as ever,” Gun­nars­son said. “With­out Shatty I think we were lack­ing, es­pe­cially the first cou­ple games (of the play­offs), some of­fense. He was huge on the power play for us and that poise with the puck. Some guys stepped up.”

Yeo said his team be­ing in must-win mode from the dead­line on helped spur a late-sea­son run that al­lowed them to also elim­i­nate the Wild in five games. And if the Blues need an of­fen­sive spark from a right-handed-shoot­ing first-round pick, they can plug 23-year-old Jor­dan Sch­maltz into their lineup.

In Washington, Shat­tenkirk is glad to be on a Stan­ley Cup con­tender ready­ing for a sec­ond-round matchup against the de­fend­ing-cham­pion Pitts­burgh Pen­guins. He doesn’t mind St. Louis en­joy­ing suc­cess with­out him.

“When I was there this year, we knew we had that ca­pa­bil­ity. For what­ever rea­son we just couldn’t get to our full po­ten­tial,” Shat­tenkirk said. “They were a group that be­lieved that they could play this way all year, and they’re do­ing it at the right time.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

The Washington Cap­i­tals’ Kevin Shat­tenkirk was among the team lead­ers in over­all min­utes in Games 1 and 2 be­fore hav­ing his ice time slashed the rest of the se­ries.

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