Kevin Shattenkirk looking to be more than ‘work in progress’ with Rangers

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NEW YORK — Kevin Shattenkirk’s return home to play for the New York Rangers wasn’t filled with “sunshine and rainbows” as he jokingly said he expected after Sunday’s practice at Citi Field ahead of the 2018 Winter Classic.

The big free agent acquisition hasn’t fully settled into his role on the blue line after signing a four-year, $26.6 million deal over the summer. The 28-year-old Shattenkirk may lead Rangers defensemen in points (22), but he’s on pace for his lowest offensive output in four seasons as he averages 0.58 points per game.

All in all, Shattenkirk hasn’t quite lived up to the expectations placed upon him when he entered the lineup. Head coach Alain Vigneault called him a “work in progress,” an assessment the blue liner agreed with.

“We’re still working through how he wants me to play and how he just wants his defensemen to play,” Shattenkirk said. “I’ve watched guys who’ve been here for a while like [Ryan McDonagh] and Marc [Staal], Nick Holden’s another guy. I think that there’s elements in their game that I’m trying to incorporate and add to my game. We play slightly different defensively than I’m used to. It’s something that I like. It’s aggressive. It’s something that intrinsically I haven’t gotten it to become a natural instinct yet and I think I need to get those little things into my game.”

“There’s no doubt that our expectations and his expectations are a little bit higher than what we’ve seen so far,” said Vigneault. “I think Shatty’s probably putting a little bit of pressure on himself to do real well in front of new teammates, a new environment, friends and family. Sometimes it takes a little bit of time. He’s not the first player to go through this, to come back home and play. But he’s a hard working young man with a real good attitude, very accountable to his performance. He knows the areas that he needs to improve and that we expect him to do better and I’m very confident that we’re going to get there because our team needs that.”

Having grown up just outside New York City in New Rochelle, N.Y., Shattenkirk will have plenty of friends and family inside Citi Field on Monday for the game against the Buffalo Sabres. And being so local, that’s been a trend all season long at Madison Square Garden, where there’s always someone he knows in attendance watching the games. That’s caused him to put too much pressure on himself — enough to have a negative influence on his game.

“Yeah, I’m definitely guilty of that,” he said. “Last year in the playoffs, it was another prime example of me doing that to myself and doing it too much. I think it’s only natural. I think I’ve always been that way. I’ve always wanted to be the harshest on myself more than anyone else. And there are times when I need to let myself off the hook a little bit and relax. I’ve felt that way the last couple of games, I’ve felt a lot more relaxed and just playing my game. It’s hard to do sometimes. You get caught up in things. When things start going poorly, you try to do too much to correct it.”

Through his days with the St. Louis Blues and then at the end of last season after he was dealt to the Washington Capitals, Shattenkirk has been a positive possession player, sporting an above 50 percent Corsi rating. But this season, playing mostly with Brady Skjei, he’s been under 50 percent at even strength, per Corsica, and poor puck management saw him benched for nearly 10 minutes against the New Jersey Devils last week.

“You know, at the end of the day, when the game gets [to] crunch time, you do what you feel is best for the team,” Vigneault said after that loss. “That’s what we felt was best for the team.”

In the three games since that benching, Shattenkirk has played 20:56, 19:18 and 18:52, respectively, and said he’s feeling better overall about the way he’s been trending. Why?

“Again, just relaxing,” he said, “not worry about making mistakes and worrying about going out there the next shift and doing something to affect the game in a positive way. That’s the mentality that I need to keep in my head throughout an entire game.”

As the calendar changes to 2018, the Rangers find themselves holding one of two wild card spots as part of a very tight Metropolitan Division. Their final 44 games will prove to be a battle to secure a playoff spot for another spring and time for the puck-moving defenseman they added in the off-season to find his game at the right time.

“I’m working to get it back in the right direction and working to get things going well so I’m just transitioning into this team seamlessly,” said Shattenkirk. “When I go out there guys know what they’re getting. I want to keep that consistently. This is the time to do it — January, February. That way by March and April you’re playing your best hockey.”

More 2018 Winter Classic coverage:
Sabres’ Jason Pominville ready for third outdoor game experience
Mike Emrick on calling the first Winter Classic, his favorite outdoor game venues (PHT Q&A)
Sabres hoping to use Winter Classic to jump-start positive second half
Rangers, Sabres prepared for cold, windy Winter Classic conditions

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

The Buzzer: Spezza bounces back after healthy scratch; another injury for Predators

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Player Of The Night: Jason Spezza, Dallas Stars

On Monday night the Dallas Star made veteran forward Jason Spezza a healthy scratch as he was mired in a lengthy goal-scoring drought. The Stars wanted to see more from him, and they knew he could provide more.

When he stepped back into the lineup on Tuesday night against the Detroit Red Wings he did exactly that by scoring a pair of goals in the Stars’ 4-2 win.

Even though Spezza had been struggling to put points on the board he was still doing an excellent job when it came to driving possession and generating shots, as well as the fact the team was outscoring its opponents when he was on the ice. His ice-time has been cut significantly this season, but he was doing enough to suggest that it was only a matter of time until he got back into the goal column.

He snapped out of it in a big way on Tuesday.

Another big injury for Nashville

The Nashville Predators are already playing without two of their top forwards with Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson sidelined.

They lost another one on Tuesday night in their 1-0 win over the Vegas Golden Knights when Ryan Johanson had to leave the game after taking a high hit from William Carrier.

Johanson left the game and did not return. There was no penalty called on the play.

Predators coach Peter Laviolette had no update on Johansen after the game and said they were given an explanation that it was a clean hit.

The Predators ended up winning the game 1-0 thanks to a goal from Kevin Fiala and 43 saves from Jusse Saros.

Highlight Of The Night

Not much in the way of highlight reel plays tonight, but here is a big goal from Vince Dunn to give the St. Louis Blues a 2-1 overtime win over the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Factoid Of The Night

A big milestone for New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist as he picks up his 20th win of the season.

Scores

New Jersey Devils 4, New York Islanders 1

New York Rangers 5, Philadelphia Flyers 1

Dallas Stars 4, Detroit Red Wings 2

St. Louis Blues 2, Toronto Maple Leafs 1

Nashville Predators 1, Vegas Golden Knights 0

San Jose Sharks 3, Arizona Coyotes 2

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Report: Blackhawks concerned Crawford could miss remainder of season

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Here is some less than encouraging news for the Chicago Blackhawks.

According to a report from Mark Lazerus of the Chicago Sun Times on Tuesday night, there is some growing concern within the Blackhawks organization that starting goaltender Corey Crawford could miss the remainder of the season due to experiencing vertigo-like symptoms for the second time in his career.

Crawford has been sidelined since before Christmas due to an upper-body injury, but the team has been quiet on specifics other than to say publicly that they expect him to return this season.

Over the past few years Crawford has become one of the NHL’s top goalies and when he has been on the ice this season has been absolutely stellar for the Blackhawks. Given the current state of their defense and the rate that they give up shots he has become one of the team’s most important players and the one that seems to drive their success more than any other.

[Related: Corey Crawford has become the Blackhawks’ most important player]

In his absence the team has leaned on Anton Forsberg and Jeff Glass. Both have played about as well as could have been expected, but they aren’t Crawford and there is a noticeable drop in play at the position when he is not in there.

In 26 games this season Crawford is 16-9-2 with a .929 save percentage.

As of Tuesday night the Blackhawks are on the outside of the Western Conference playoff picture, sitting three points back of the Minnesota Wild. They also have the San Jose Sharks and Colorado Avalanche sitting between them.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Rick Nash snaps out of slump, powers Rangers to huge win

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The New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers are two of the teams in the middle of the free-for-all that is the Eastern Conference playoff race that had five teams separated by just three points heading into Tuesday night.

Both teams had been rolling in opposite directions over the past week with the Flyers having won four in a row and five of their past six, while the Rangers were riding a three-game losing skid and had lost four out of five.

Their past two losses coming out of the bye week were especially ugly, losing to the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins (two other teams they are competing with) by a combined score of 12-4.

Both the Rangers’ and Flyers’ streaks came to an end in their game on Tuesday with the Rangers picking up a huge 5-1 win.

Rick Nash was the big star for the Rangers on Tuesday with a pair of goals, including a breakaway goal in the first period to tie the game at one after the Rangers gave up an early goal. It was a big performance for Nash because he had been mired in a brutal slump that had seen him go 12 consecutive games without a goal. He also had just one assist during that stretch. That slump has contributed to a down year offensively that has him on track for one of the least productive seasons of his career.

But he came through in a big way on Tuesday to help give the Rangers two huge points and move them three points ahead of the Flyers. The Flyers still have one game in hand while the two teams will still play three more games the rest of the season.

The Rangers’ win on Tuesday, combined with the Islanders’ 4-1 loss to the New Jersey Devils, moves the Rangers back into the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference for the time being.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Predators place forward Viktor Arvidsson on injured reserve

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) The Nashville Predators have placed forward Viktor Arvidsson on injured reserve with a lower-body injury and recalled forward Frederick Gaudreau from the AHL’s Milwaukee Admirals.

The Predators made the move Tuesday afternoon.

Arvidsson was helped off the ice Monday during practice, and The Tennessean reports he tested himself during Tuesday morning’s skate.

The forward ranks third on the Predators with 13 goals and fourth with 27 points. The Predators already have Filip Forsberg on injured reserve with an upper-body injury.

Gaudreau has played 18 games with the Predators with three assists. He had 14 points in 21 games with the Admirals this season.

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey