There was a time not so long ago that it seemed as though defenseman Jeff Schultz might never be a regular part of the Capitals’ lineup again. Early on after Coach Dale Hunter arrived, Schultz found himself the odd man out serving as a healthy scratch more often than not.
Schultz sat out 18 of 20 games from Dec. 9 to Jan. 31, but since playing in a Feb. 1 game at Florida he’s appeared in 13 of the past 14. In nine games of that stretch, he’s played more than 14 minutes.
“It feels like my game’s come back, I’m comfortable out there and I think I’m contributing,” Schultz said. “It just feels good to be back, hanging with the guys during game time, going through the game-time routine.”
It’s a welcome change for Schultz, who said the biggest difference in his game has simply been the confidence offered with consistent playing time and game action. Like any player, it’s tough to get in a rhythm when not playing on a regular basis.
His steady performances recently brought unprompted praise from General Manager George McPhee at the trade deadline: “Schultzie sat out 20 games and is playing as well as he ever has.”
As one of few true stay-at-home defensemen on the roster, Schultz can provide a stability in Washington’s zone, particularly when he’s paired with players like Dennis Wideman or Mike Green, who like to jump up in the play.
Of all defensemen on the roster who have appeared in 30 or more games this season, Schultz has been on the ice for the fewest goals per 60 minutes (1.81) according to stats available at behindthenet.ca. (Dmitry Orlov is second-best at 1.86, Karl Alzner 2.02, Roman Hamrlik (2.45), Wideman (2.55) and John Carlson (2.75).
Schultz explained that some of the specific items he worked on with assistant coach Jim Johnson during his time off were his gap control in the neutral zone, ability to get back to pucks quicker and simply make faster plays to get the puck out of the zone.
Ultimately though, Schultz said not much has changed in his game.
“Not really. It’s just getting into games or getting in a bunch of games and just getting that confidence back and getting the ice time where you feel comfortable out there,” Schultz said. “For me it was just going out there and playing, not worrying about what happens. If a mistake happens, forget about it and move on. You know, if they don’t like something you do and there’s a consequence for it, so be it.”
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