Less than a week into the Rangers season, less than a week into David Quinn’s tenure as coach, and this is what it has come to: Kevin Shattenkirk as a healthy scratch.
The veteran defenseman is more than likely to be benched for the team’s Garden match against the Sharks on Thursday night, with Quinn’s team 0-3-0 and failing to gain any traction. Thus far, Shattenkirk has been more of a problem than answer, struggling to find his game following offseason knee surgery.
“You have to learn from it, obviously. I’m not a guy that would take that the wrong way and mope about it,” Shattenkirk said after Tuesday’s practice about the coming benching. “It’s the NHL; if you’re not playing well, there are guys that are playing well. Tony DeAngelo played a phenomenal game the [Sunday] night [in Carolina]. He’s earned a spot on the roster. I think all the ‘D’ have earned a spot on the roster, and I’m probably the guy that needs to fight a little bit harder to get my spot back. It’s on me, for sure.
“I know that it’s a process, but this is probably a good little kick to get me going and get me out of this — I don’t want to say slump — but just get my confidence back and start playing the game I know I have.”
Of course, the 29-year-old Shattenkirk signed the ballyhooed free-agent contract with the Rangers in the summer of 2017, a four-year, $26.6 million deal that represented a market discount (in term) for him to play with the team he grew up rooting for as a kid in New Rochelle. But up to this juncture, the annual salary-cap hit of $6.65 million has turned out to be a disappointment, having suffered a torn meniscus in his left knee in his first training camp and never playing up to his ability.
That continued into this season, as Quinn has seen since taking over for the fired Alain Vigneault behind the Blueshirts’ bench.
“He’s coming off major knee surgery. I think he’s fighting it mentally,” said Quinn, who gave Shattenkirk just 7:29 of total ice time in the roller-coaster 8-5 loss to the Hurricanes in Raleigh on Sunday, the second game of a weekend back-to-back that started with a 3-1 loss to the Sabres in Buffalo.
“I think he’s unsure of himself. He’s a big part of what we’ve got going on moving forward. We’ve talked at length. I think he had a good practice [Tuesday]. I think it’s more mental than anything.
“He and I have talked about playing with more urgency, and I think he’s still a little bit hesitant because of what happened last year. He’s got to get his confidence back. He’s going to have every chance to get his confidence back. This is a process. This isn’t a punishment.”
Actually, this is not the first time Quinn has scratched Shattenkirk. Back when both were with AHL Lake Erie in the Avalanche organization — after they had also overlapped at Boston University — Quinn scratched the first-round draft pick in his first year as a pro. It was a move that Shattenkirk called “eye-opening.”
But this is not the minors, and the NHL is not about development. Before the preseason, Shattenkirk had not played in an NHL game since Jan. 18. But his play has still started significantly slower than both he and the team wanted.
“Not great,” is how Shattenkirk described his own performance. “I think I need to get the urgency back in my game a little bit. I think it’s just a little too slow right now for me. At the puck, just being a little harder to play against in our ‘D’ zone on my one-on-ones, just making my decisions quicker. There is making my decisions quicker and then there is playing with urgency and getting things done because you have to get them done. That’s what I’ve been lacking, and [it is] especially what the coaches want to see more from me.”
So it seems as if Quinn is going to give Shattenkirk a game to watch and catch his breath, and then the club hopes he returns revitalized. Asked if this kind of move could have a ripple effect on the rest of the team, Quinn said, ”Maybe.”
“Listen, our job is to put the best guys out there to give us a chance to win,” Quinn said. “He’s going to be that guy when he gets back to being Kevin Shattenkirk and [having] a great mindset and being physically 100 percent. I have zero doubt about that and neither does he. It might just take a little bit of time.”
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