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Surgery for Shattenkirk after playing with pain for Rangers

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Now we might know why Kevin Shattenkirk‘s had such a disappointing debut season for the New York Rangers.

After playing with pain for months, Shattenkirk decided to undergo knee surgery, sidelining the defenseman indefinitely. To be specific, Rangers GM Jeff Gorton explained that Shattenkirk, 28, was dealing with a meniscus tear.

As you can see in this dour press conference, Shattenkirk said that he’s been dealing with knee issues all season.

While Shattenkirk has his critics even on his best day, it truly seemed like something dynamic was missing for the high-scoring blueliner. That’s been especially true lately; Shattenkirk was mired in a seven-game pointless streak heading into the surgery, and had just one assist in his past 13 contests. Even with those limitations, Shattenkirk managed a point every other game overall this season (23 points in 46 games).

It’s only natural to wonder how much more effective he might have been if not addled by injury. His possession stats took a big hit, and even if some of that might come from the Rangers’ counterpunching system, it’s reasonable to project better numbers if he was healthy.

One could definitely second-guess the Rangers for not pushing Shattenkirk to take care of the problem sooner instead of later, yet knee issues can often be tough to judge. No doubt about it, management likely wanted an immediate return on their considerable investment in Shattenkirk, too.

Shattenkirk’s absence opens the door for another polarizing offensive defenseman in Anthony Deangelo, not to mention other Rangers likely getting more reps on the power play and other situations.

It will be interesting to see if this injury loss represents that extra push for the Rangers to lean more toward being sellers at the trade deadline, as that was already being rumored lately by Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, TSN’s Frank Seravalli, and others.

This is a real bummer either way for Shattenkirk, who certainly would have preferred to make a better first impression for a team he dreamed of playing for. Hopefully he’ll be more “himself” when he returns, whether that means late in 2017-18 or in 2018-19.

After holding off the Sabres for a win last night, the Rangers are on a small upward trend and currently hold the first wild-card spot in the East. That said, it’s a skin-tight race with Metropolitan Division rivals nipping at the Rangers’ heels, so they don’t have a lot of room for error.

Maybe the Rangers will be better off playing without a hampered Shattenkirk, but they’ll need to hit the ground running without him. It’s the latest bump in the road for what’s been a challenging season for New York.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

The Washington Capitals are up to their old tricks again

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The Washington Capitals are doing that thing again.

It seems every year they find a way to work themselves into the top spot in the Metropolitan Division. They’ve finished first in their division seven times out of the past 10 seasons and second twice. Only once — a fifth-place showing — have they been outside the top two during the past decade.

It’s become as predictable as it is remarkable.

And this year, at first glance, it’s sort of surprising.

Sure, Alex Ovechkin is still scoring, Nicklas Backstrom is still assisting and Braden Holtby is still stopping a lot of pucks.

But the Caps also took, what at least appeared to be at the time, a big hit on the backend over the summer.

Offensively, not much has changed (although they did lose Marcus Johannson’s 24 goals) but losing Karl Alzner and Kevin Shattenkirk to free agency and Nate Schmidt in the expansion draft left a sizeable hole to be filled on the blueline.

[Alex Ovechkin has never had a goal-scoring run like this]

Statistically speaking, they’ve also regressed from the numbers they put up last season when they amassed 55 wins.

They had the fourth best Corsi rating in the NHL last season, a statistic that made sense giving their winning prowess. Yet this year, with 21 wins, they sit 23rd in the category they dominated last season.

The same story plays out in expected goals, where they sat ninth last season yet are in 26th place now.

Analytically, a lot of their success this season doesn’t seem to add up, and yet they’ve won eight of their last 10 games and are currently on a three-game heater.

So why are they tied for first place in the Metro? There are a few answers to be had.

In the scoring department, several players have stepped up. Jakub Vrana has 10 goals in 33 games after three in 21 games last year and Tom Wilson is just three points shy of the 19 points he put up in 82 games last season. Brett Connolly and Alex Chaisson are also scoring at better rates and Washington sits eighth in five-on-five scoring.

What is also helping is their high shooting percentage.

At 9.22 percent, the Caps sit in fifth in the league, and their PDO, when you combine their shooting percentage and team save percentage, sits at 101.98, good for the third spot in the NHL.

And the Caps have proven they can keep that number high. Only two teams finished with over nine percent last season, and the Caps were one of them.

On defence, John Carlson and Dmitry Orlov have picked up the slack. The rookie third pairing of Christian Djoos and Madison Bowey is averaging 14 minutes a game and have been a solid addition.

And Holtby, is well, Holtby, which has been especially helpful given Philipp Grubauer‘s struggles to return to last year’s form so far.

So the Caps, for the most part, are in a good spot.

The biggest question that will surround the Caps, assuming they hold serve, is if they can replicate it in the playoffs.

Despite winning a slew of regular season games, the Capitals just can’t figure out how to do the same in April and May.

In nine of the past ten seasons they’ve made the playoffs, they’ve failed to even sniff the Eastern Conference Final, never mind a Stanley Cup final berth.

But that’s another story for another day, as it were.

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

It’s St. Louis Blues day at PHT

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Throughout the month of August, PHT will be dedicating a day to all 30 NHL clubs. Today’s team? The St. Louis Blues day.

Another strong regular season followed by an early playoff exit. Business as usual for the St. Louis Blues, right?

Well, maybe. You get the sense that the 2015-16 season is an ultimatum, with the T.J. Oshie trade being a warning: this might be the last shot for many, perhaps including head coach Ken Hitchcock.

On paper, there’s still a lot of promise in St. Louis.

Vladimir Tarasenko tore onto the scene as a true elite sniper in 2015-16, and he was paid handsomely for it. Jaden Schwartz lacks some of the sizzle, but he’s a blue chip of his own. There’s some uncertainty for the likes of David Backes, but let’s not forget that St. Louis scored 248 goals last season, more than any other Western Conference playoff squad.

Of course, a Hitch-helmed team is expected to be stout defensively, and the Blues boast two fantastic blueliners in Kevin Shattenkirk and Alex Pietrangelo.

The two-headed dragon setup remains in net with Brian Elliott and Jake Allen, but hey, at least they like each other.

Off-season recap

As mentioned above, the Blues re-upped with expected cornerstones Allen and Tarasenko. They also parted ways with Oshie and Barret Jackman.

St. Louis actually looks pretty similar heading into 2015-16, but young players could up the ante quite a bit. Could someone like Robby Fabbri and/or Ty Rattie become difference-makers for the Blues? Training camp might help decide that, but their development is one of the more important aspects of this off-season.

If fear isn’t enough of a motivator, there’s also avoiding sights like these in the future:

Report: Blue Jackets have interest in Ehrhoff

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Will Christian Ehrhoff’s long wait for a new contract end with him joining the Columbus Blue Jackets?

It seems that there have been discussions between the two sides, according the Columbus Dispatch’s sources. It was previously reportedly that Columbus went after Dougie Hamilton, Paul Martin, and Kevin Shattenkirk over the course of the offseason in an attempt to bolster their defense, so Ehrhoff would be the latest in a long line of targets.

The problem at this point is that Columbus is close to the cap after acquiring and signing Brandon Saad. Ehrhoff’s agent has already said that his client is open to another one-year contract after completing his $4 million deal with the Pittsburgh Penguins for the 2014-15 campaign. If he’s willing to be accommodating from a financial standpoint as well, then the Blue Jackets might be able to fit him in under the ceiling.

It’s possible that this situation will drag on as Ehrhoff might wait to see if other more lucrative options materialize, assuming that there aren’t already such prospects on the table.

Ehrhoff was limited to 49 games in 2014-15 due to injuries and finished with three goals and 14 points.

Report: Blue Jackets sought to add top defenseman

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If the Columbus Blue Jackets enter the 2015-16 campaign with largely the same defense as last season, it won’t be because they didn’t try to make a big change.

Per Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch:

The Blue Jackets were in on trade talks concerning Dougie Hamilton before Boston sent him to Calgary, and they’ve contacted the St. Louis Blues about Kevin Shattenkirk. The Jackets also made a contract offer to free agent Paul Martin before he signed with San Jose.

Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen plans to keep looking, but it’s worth noting that Columbus is only about $4 million below the ceiling after signing Brandon Saad and Matt Calvert, per General Fanager. That’s not to say that Columbus can’t still acquire a top defenseman, but it’s more likely that it would have to involve the other team either retaining salary or taking a contract in order to make things work.

As things stand, the Blue Jackets have one of the cheapest defenses in the league as their money has instead flowed to their forwards and goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky. That’s thanks in part to the fact that blueliners David Savard, Dalton Prout, Ryan Murray, and Kevin Connauton each come with a cap hit of $1.3 million or less, but all of them will be restricted free agents next summer and the raises they might demand has to also be a consideration.

So ultimately Columbus might stick with what it has and hope Murray can stay healthy as the 2012 second overall pick has run into serious injury problems early in his career.

“To me, getting him healthy would be the best addition any team has made this summer,” Kekalainen said. “It would make a huge difference for us.”