NHL on NBCSN: Shattenkirk finds perfect fit in new role with Lightning

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Tuesday’s matchup between the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Lightning. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

There were four days between the Rangers buying out the final two years of Kevin Shattenkirk’s contract and the Lightning signing the 30-year-old defenseman to a one-year deal. Despite how swift his fortunes changed, there was a period of anger and frustration at not being able to make the “hometown boy returns” story work out.

Shattenkirk hails from New Rochelle, N.Y., which is about 20 miles outside of New York City. When he became an unrestricted free agent in 2017, it was clear that the Rangers would be atop his preferred destinations list. He would sign a four-year, $26.6 million deal to head home, but nothing went right during his two-season stop in the Big Apple.

During training camp in 2017 Shattenkirk suffered a meniscus tear in his left knee, an injury that would bother him during his entire tenure in New York. He played only 46 games in 2017-18, with surgery ending his season that January. Last season he managed to get into 73 games, but it was clear he wasn’t himself. He scored only two goals and recorded 28 points and was healthy scratched while trying to fight through the knee issue.

When the Rangers made the buyout official on August 1, he felt plenty of emotions.

“On a personal level, for not being able to make it work from my end, and when a team makes that decision you want to prove them wrong,” Shattenkirk told NBC Sports on Monday. 

Shattenkirk was at a low point and began to question himself. But then the phone started to ring. Considering he’d been bought out, a team looking to add to its blue line wouldn’t need to shell out major bucks to sign him, and would be banking on a bounce-back season from the now-healthy defenseman. It was a rollercoaster few days, but the interest level from other NHL teams helped restore his confidence.

“All of a sudden you start to realize that there are a lot of teams out there that could use you and may value you,” he said. “In my mind, it was something I was able to move through pretty quickly and it allowed me to focus on the season again. I was pretty driven this summer to have a big bounce-back season regardless of where I was. I think being able to know I was coming to Tampa and being on this calibre of a team, I wanted to make sure I was ready to go when the time training camp started.”

The knee injury is in the past now and the results show it. Shattenkirk, who’s been mostly paired with Victor Hedman, is third on the Lightning in minutes played, averaging 20:30 a night, and he’s tied for fourth on the team in points with seven, which includes four goals. The pressures of having to perform in your hometown or having to play like a No. 1 defenseman and produce on a regular basis is absent now in Tampa.

“There’s a lot of guys who are above me in that role and it just allows me to fit in to my role perfectly,” he said. “It’s been comforting, it’s been nice to be here. Great group of guys, great fans, and I think they all appreciate for what I bring to the table. It’s up to me to not try to be more than they need me to be.”

Shattenkirk spent this past summer training in Connecticut with Ben Prentiss, who has worked with NHLers James van Riemsdyk, Jonathan Quick, Cam Atkinson, Charlie McAvoy, and Jack Eichel, among many others. He also focused on edge work in his skating with skills coach Erik Nates, whom Shattenkirk has used in the past.

“When you have an injury like [my knee], you tend to overcompensate and you don’t realize you’re losing a lot in your stride,” he said. “I had a lot of bad habits in there I needed to break. It helped me out tremendously.”

A healthy Shattenkirk returns to New York City Tuesday night for the first time as a member of the Lightning. Because Tampa’s games this week are at the Rangers, Devils, and Islanders, family and friends in the area won’t descend upon one specific game, they’ll instead spread out among the three, and others will be watching from Mustang Harry’s, a sports bar not far from Madison Square Garden.

It remains to be seen what kind of salute the Rangers have in store for Shattenkirk. The defenseman said he wasn’t sure what kind of reception he would receive from the Garden faithful, but knowing the area as well as he does, he’s ready for anything.

“I had a great time playing there. They were very supportive of me and obviously knowing what I was going through,” he said. “But it’s New York, and if you don’t perform in New York they have something to say about it. I’m sure there’ll be a couple of boo birds out [Tuesday] night, but that’s New York, and that’s something I’m accustomed to growing up there and being a New York fan. In a way, it’ll probably make me laugh a little bit on the inside, but that’s how you’ve got to approach it and we’ll see how it goes.”

Brendan Burke and Pierre McGuire will call Lightning-Rangers from Madison Square Garden in New York, N.Y. Paul Burmeister will anchor tonight’s studio coverage with Jeremy Roenick and Patrick Sharp.

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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.

Ovechkin, Strome lead Capitals past struggling Flyers 4-1

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PHILADELPHIA — Alex Ovechkin scored two empty-net goals, Dylan Strome had a goal and an assist and the Washington Capitals defeated the Philadelphia Flyers 4-1 on Wednesday night.

T.J. Oshie also scored for the Capitals, who finished 3-3 on a six-game trip. Charlie Lindgren made 29 saves.

Kevin Hayes scored for Philadelphia, which has lost 13 of 15 games. Carter Hart made 23 stops.

Strome broke a 1-all tie with 10:41 remaining when he deflected John Carlson‘s shot from long range past Hart.

Hayes had a golden opportunity to tie it on a Philadelphia power play, but Lindgren made a great right pad save on a try from close range with 8:20 remaining.

Ovechkin iced it, scoring into an empty net with 1:35 left and adding another empty-netter with 8.2 seconds left for his 15th of the season. Ovechkin has 795 career goals, good for third all-time. He is six goals away from tying Gordie Howe for second place. Wayne Gretzky, with 894 goals, tops the list.

Hayes scored his ninth goal of the season for his team-leading 28th point with 4:14 left in the first period to give the Flyers a 1-0 lead. Hayes rushed to the bench after breaking his stick on a slap shot attempt, and scored on a wrist shot from the high slot with his new stick.

The Flyers had a power-play goal for the third straight game and have four overall in that stretch. Philadelphia, which began play ranked 30th in the NHL in scoring on the man advantage, now has converted 16.7% (14 of 84) of its chances.

Oshie tied it 3:51 into the second on the Capitals’ fourth power play as the Flyers continued to take sloppy penalties. This time, James van Riemsdyk committed Philadelphia’s third tripping minor of the game. Oshie made them pay with his fifth goal of the season when he finished a nifty passing sequence with Strome and Evgeny Kuznetsov with a perfectly placed one-timer over Hart’s left shoulder.

NOTES: Van Riemsdyk returned after missing the last 20 games due to a broken right index finger. . Flyers forward Tanner Laczynski was placed on injured reserve after departing midway through the third period of Monday’s 5-3 win over Colorado with what looked like an injury to his left leg. . Washington was without several injured players, including starting goalie Darcy Kuemper (upper body). Kuemper was with the team, but missed his second in a row. . Carlson had two assists. . Philadelphia’s Cam Atkinson, out all season with an upper body injury, has been practicing and is close to returning.

UP NEXT

Capitals: Host Seattle on Friday night.

Flyers: Open four-game trip at Vegas on Friday night.

Penguins prospect Sam Poulin taking leave of absence

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PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh Penguins forward prospect Sam Poulin is taking a leave of absence from the club’s American Hockey League affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

Penguins general manager Ron Hextall announced on Wednesday that the 21-year-old Poulin, Pittsburgh’s first-round pick in the 2019 draft, is stepping away due to “personal reasons.”

“The Penguins support Sam’s decision to take time away from hockey to focus on himself,” Hextall said in a release. “As with all of our players, our priority is them as individuals first. We look forward to having him back with the team when he is ready.”

Hextall said Poulin will return home to Quebec and continue to work out on his own.

Poulin made his NHL debut in October and had one assist in three games before heading back to the AHL. Poulin had four goals in 13 games for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton at the time of his decision.

Nathan MacKinnon sidelined about a month with upper-body injury

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DENVER — The injury-riddled Colorado Avalanche will be without leading scorer Nathan MacKinnon for about a month after he suffered an upper-body injury in a loss to Philadelphia.

The team announced the news on social media.

MacKinnon has eight goals and 26 assists for a team-best 34 points this season for the defending Stanley Cup champions. He joins a long list of banged-up players, including Valeri Nichushkin, Evan Rodrigues, Bowen Byram, Kurtis MacDermid, Josh Manson, Darren Helm and captain Gabriel Landeskog. Forward Artturi Lehkonen also missed the game in Philadelphia.

The 27-year-old MacKinnon signed an eight-year extension in August. He was coming off a postseason in which he tied for the league lead with 13 goals, helping the Avalanche raise their third Stanley Cup in franchise history.

Former Bruins coach Cassidy wins; Boston’s home streak ends

Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports
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BOSTON — The Vegas Golden Knights made former Boston coach Bruce Cassidy’s return a success on Reilly Smith‘s score in the fifth round of the shootout, beating the Bruins 4-3 to end their NHL-record for home victories to open a season at 14 games.

The 57-year-old Cassidy was fired by Boston following 5 1/2 seasons in June after the Bruins were eliminated by Carolina in the opening round of the playoffs.

Eight days after he was let go, he was hired by Vegas.

In a matchup of two of the league’s top three teams, Western conference-leading Vegas opened a 3-0 lead early in the second period on two goals by Paul Cotter and the other by Jonathan Marchessault before the Bruins started their comeback when Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak scored just over six minutes apart late in the period.

They tied it on Taylor Hall‘s power-play goal 3:08 into the third when he spun in front and slipped a shot from the slot past goalie Logan Thompson.

Smith had the only score in the shootout, slipping a forehand shot past goalie Jeremy Swayman.

Cassidy took over as Boston’s interim coach on Feb. 7, 2016, before getting the head job that April. His teams made the playoffs all six seasons, including a trip to the 2019 Stanley Cup Final when they lost the seventh game at home against St. Louis.

Cassidy knows what it sounds like in TD Garden with The Standells’ song “Dirty Water” blaring after Bruins’ wins.

“Now that you brought it up, I’m used to hearing “Dirty Water” at the end of the game,” he said, smiling. “I’m glad I didn’t hear it tonight. The streak is irrelevant to me. It’s nice to come in and play well.”

Boston lost for just the second time in 12 games.

“This locker room sticks together, and we knew we were going to do something special tonight,” Swayman said. “It (stinks) losing, but we’re going to make sure we fix the problems.”

The Bruins’ home-opening streak broke the record of 11 that was set by the 1963-64 Chicago Blackhawks and equaled by the Florida Panthers last season.

Before the shootout, Thompson made 40 saves. Boston’s backup Swayman had 21.

“This city meant a lot to him, and he was fired up ready to go,” Thompson said of Cassidy. “We went out there and tried to get him two points tonight.”

Cotter collected William Karlsson‘s pass inside the left circle and unloaded a wrister under the crossbar 1:36 into the game.

Marchessault stole Pastrnak’s attempted clearing pass, broke in alone and tucked in his own rebound to make it 2-0.

Cotter’s second came 51 seconds into the second period when he slipped a wrister past Swayman’s glove.

“We couldn’t get it done early, before the shootout. We had chances,” Pastrnak said. “It’s a tough one to swallow.”

Vegas star forward Jack Eichel missed the game with a lower-body injury.

TRIBUTE

The Bruins played a video montage of Cassidy on the Jumbotron late in the opening period that ended with a picture of him and said: “Welcome back, Bruce.”

The crowd gave him a nice ovation and he waved thanking them.

“It’s a really nice gesture by the Bruins’ organization,” he said. “I appreciate it. I said all along that I have a tremendous amount of respect for them. I’m thankful they did it.”

FOR THE RECORD

Cassidy finished tied for third on the Bruins’ coaching list with Hall of Famer Milt Schmidt (1955-66) at 245 victories, behind Claude Julien’s (2008-17) 419 and Art Ross (1925-45) with 387.

EXTRA SPECIAL TEAMS

The Bruins entered the game ranked second in the league both with their power play (29.6%) and penalty killing (84.1%).

UP NEXT

Golden Knights: Host the New York Rangers.

Bruins: At the Colorado Avalanche.