Facing a 2-0 series deficit it is fair to say that things have not gone the Washington Capitals’ way so far in their second-round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
They have failed to capitalize on some of their opportunities and starting goaltender Braden Holtby has been off of his game so much that he ended up getting benched on Saturday.
Another issue that needs to be corrected: Kevin Shattenkirk, their prized in-season acquisition before the NHL trade deadline, has had a particularly rough postseason and seemed to bottom out in the Capitals’ 6-2 Game 2 loss on Saturday night.
Along with losing a race to a loose puck to Matt Cullen, allowing the 40-year-old center to open the scoring in the second period with a shorthanded goal, Shattenkirk also took a costly delay of game penalty early in the third period that helped set up Phil Kessel’s second goal of the game to give the Penguins a 4-1 lead.
Overall this postseason Shattenkirk has zero goals, three assists, and is a minus-seven in eight games.
On Sunday, coach Barry Trotz acknowledged that Shattenkirk needs to be better saying, via CSN Mid-Atlantic’s Tarik El-Bashir, “That’s not good enough for what we need in that third pairing right now,” and adding that his minus-seven rating is “hard to recover from.”
There is obviously a ton of pressure on the Capitals as a team to perform this postseason in an effort to erase all of the sour memories from past postseason appearances.
But there is also a lot of pressure on a player like Shattenkirk individually. Not only was his arrival in Washington supposed to be one of the final pieces for a team that has finished with the league’s best record two years in a row and is still searching for that elusive championship, but as a free agent after the season he is also being watched closely by 30 other general managers around the league.
Whether it is fair or not (it isn’t always fair), playoff performances can — and do — have a huge impact in what teams do in the offseason. Sometimes it is justified, sometimes it is an overreaction to a small sample size of games. But it does seem to matter.
Shattenkirk is an outstanding player, and he has a lengthy track record of success in the NHL to prove it. He is a significantly better player than he has demonstrated over the past couple of weeks, and especially over the past two games. But right now his performance can not be doing himself any favors when it comes to the summer. He has another level he can get to and for both the sake of his team and his quest into free agency this summer he probably needs to find it pretty quickly.