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Capitals’ Barry Trotz on Kevin Shattenkirk: ‘I know he can play better’

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As Washington Capitals Coach Barry Trotz recently put it, “plus-minus is not always the be-all, end-all.” The statistic, which awards a plus to a player who is on the ice when his team scores a goal and a minus for being on the ice when a goal is allowed, is the definition of imperfect because it lacks context. A player may end up with a minus even though he wasn’t the one responsible for allowing the goal.

“It’s, I think, the five guys on the ice,” Trotz said.

But when one guy is the common denominator enough times, it can be telling. Kevin Shattenkirk has a minus-seven rating in eight playoff games, which is the worst on the team, and Trotz acknowledged the defenseman’s play needs to improve.

Steinberg: The Capitals head to Pittsburgh trailing 0-2. The worst thing they can do is panic.

“I think if you talk to Kevin, he would admit that he can play better,” Trotz said Sunday. “I know he can play better. We’ll talk to him and make sure he’s better next game. I mean, he’s done some really good things offensively for us, but at the same time, I think he’s minus-seven in the playoffs so far, and he’s been more in that third pairing for us. So that’s not good enough for what we need in that third pairing.”

Shattenkirk is on a pairing with Brooks Orpik, who is a minus-five, and the two get sheltered minutes mostly on the ice against bottom-six forwards. Yet that duo has been scored on more than any other for Washington, and Shattenkirk’s minus-seven is the worst of any player in the postseason. In the Capitals’ Game 2 loss to the Penguins on Saturday night, Shattenkirk got burned on a shorthanded breakaway by 40-year-old Matt Cullen, which led to the first goal of the game.

With Washington down 3-1 in the third period, Shattenkirk took a delay-of-game penalty, and Phil Kessel scored on the power play to give the Penguins a three-goal cushion. The Capitals went on to lose, 6-2, and are now in a two-games-to-none hole with Games 3 and 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinal in Pittsburgh. Orpik and Shattenkirk were also responsible for the Penguins’ game-winning goal in Game 1.

On Cullen’s goal, Shattenkirk’s shot from the point was blocked by Cullen, who then beat Shattenkirk in a battle for the puck and outraced him down the ice.

With the Capitals reeling against Penguins, they turned to a players-only meeting

“To be minus-seven, it’s hard to recover from,” Trotz said. “Your third pairing, you want them to be even.”

The Capitals traded for Shattenkirk in late February to bolster their defensive depth and be better prepared for the postseason. But while he’s shined offensively, especially on the power play, he’s had his rough defensive moments this postseason. He acknowledged that Game 3 in Washington’s first-round series against Toronto “was a bad one” for him, and he played less than 13 minutes in Game 4, a career low for him in the postseason. But Trotz and Shattenkirk both said that pairing was unlucky in other moments against Toronto with a couple pucks taking unfortunate bounces off Orpik. Underlying statistics supported that.

“They’ve taken a couple hits on the minuses, but they bring their certain talents,” Trotz said after Game 1. “Shatty can really move the puck really well and his outlet passes through the neutral zone on our regroups and that are really good. And Brooks is a physical defender and a real good penalty-killer, so they’re pieces. They help us win. Obviously, I’d like them not to have the minus-five or whatever they have right now.”

His tone became more critical after Game 3.