Three days after being traded from St. Louis to Washington, two days after playing his first game with the Capitals at Madison Square Garden and the morning after exploring D.C.’s food scene on 14th street, Kevin Shattenkirk asked his teammates for directions to Verizon Center. Shattenkirk has been steadily working through an accelerated process of post-trade deadline assimilation, and a first home game on Thursday night was the next step.
Washington’s 1-0 win over the New Jersey Devils capped off a whirlwind few days for Shattenkirk since the blockbuster deal that sent the all-star defenseman to the league’s first-place team. Before stepping onto the Verizon Center ice for the first time as Capitals player, Shattenkirk had to move to a new city, meet his new coaches and teammates, learn a new playing system and find a good spot for dinner.
On Thursday night, he was part of Washington’s franchise-record 14th straight home win. After a measly 23 combined shots through two scoreless periods, Jakub Vrana’s power-play goal, the second of his career, combined with goaltender Braden Holtby’s 15-save shutout delivered the win. Shattenkirk skated 21:24 with one shot on goal, again playing on the top power-play unit. In the first period, the crowd welcomed him to the team with a loud ovation, and Shattenkirk stood on the bench to wave.
“I’ve known this fanbase is great and they’ve supported this team a long time,” Shattenkirk said. “But even a little thing like that for a guy like me who hasn’t been here before, it was very special and meant a lot to me.”
Shattenkirk understandably looked more at ease Thursday night than his first game with the team two days ago in New York. The news of his trade to the Capitals came Monday evening, and a sleepless night followed. He then arrived in New York on Tuesday morning, tossed and turned through a pregame nap before stepping onto the Madison Square Garden ice with essentially no preparation with the Capitals.
He played more minutes Thursday night, including 7:23 on the power play, part of Washington’s plan to get him more comfortable.
“He made some really good poise plays in tight areas,” Coach Barry Trotz said. “He wasn’t being safe. He was actually a little more relaxed. I think it was good.”
After that first game in New York, forward Tom Wilson gave Shattenkirk the team’s award for the team’s player of the game, a red robe with “will over skill” written on it, and told him to get his first speech out of the way. After the game on Thursday, Shattenkirk stood in front of the team and awarded Vrana the robe.
“It kind of blows me away that he’s only been here for two, three days,” Wilson said on Thursday morning. “It feels like he’s been here a while and creates those relationships right away.”
On Wednesday at practice, Shattenkirk paired with defenseman Brooks Orpik, returning to the lineup after an undisclosed “lower-body” injury. As a third pairing for the Capitals, they complement each other with Orpik’s stay-at-home style enabling Shattenkirk to be even more aggressive in supporting the offense. There’s also a comfort in familiarity with both having played for Team USA at the last winter Olympics. When General Manager Brian MacLellan was considering the trade for Shattenkirk, Orpik said he “vouched for him hard.”
“It’s a tough transition for a lot of people when they get traded at the deadline,” Orpik said on Wednesday. “That was something [MacLellan] and the coaches were probably a little worried about, but he’s got the kind of personality and demeanor where I think he could go to any of the 30 teams and fit in right away. He’s a pretty outgoing laid-back guy. I’m sure he’ll be well-liked.”
Washington has tried to ease the move. Shattenkirk has been having private video sessions with associate coach Todd Reirden, who works with the team’s defensemen, in an effort to learn the new terminology and protocol for certain in-game situations. As a prank, one of the first team meetings featured the clip of Shattenkirk’s fight with forward Justin Williams, then with the Los Angeles Kings, in 2014.
“They hugged it out in the weight room after that,” Wilson said. “It was definitely cool to see.”
In between endearing himself to his new teammates and studying up on the Capitals’ system, Shattenkirk has started to settle into his new home for the time being. He’s currently living in a hotel near the team’s practice facility, but the next step is to find an apartment for him, his girlfriend and their dog, Lily. While rubbing his stomach, Shattenkirk joked that he likes to eat, a fan of visiting new restaurants when on road trips. When most Capitals players had to attend a season ticket-holders party on Wednesday night, Shattenkirk met a friend for dinner on 14th Street in the District.
“I was able to get lost a couple times and start to learn it slowly but surely,” Shattenkirk said with a laugh. The same could likely be said about the start of his Capitals tenure.