TAMPA — They are both out to prove something.
For the Lighting, it’s time to prove that they can push past last year’s startling end to a 62-win season, that epic playoff flop.
And then there is Kevin Shattenkirk, 30, an affable sort who is determined to regain his form as a top NHL defenseman after an abrupt end to his nightmare turn with his hometown New York Rangers.
The perfect fit.
They both have chips on their shoulders.
“I know I brought mine,” Shattenkirk said Sunday after a spirited practice, a day after losing to the Avalanche.
Shattenkirk has scored four goals, tying for the team lead with Steven Stamkos. In the 6-2 loss to Colorado, Shattenkirk had two assists, one on a beautiful pass he threaded to back-line mate Ryan McDonagh, who fed Yanni Gourde for the goal.
That’s seven points in the first eight game for Shattenkirk, whose one-year, $1.75 million deal with the Lightning currently looks like a steal.
Chips on shoulders are paying off.
“When we were going through the recruiting process after he got bought out (by the Rangers), we both brought that up in our own way,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “I think he sensed our team would have a chip on its shoulder. Probably internally, that was probably a big reason why he came here.”
It’s a far cry from the four-year, $26.6 million contract New Rochelle, N.Y., native Shattenkirk signed with the Rangers in July 2017.
“The way that the stars aligned, it seemed like a perfect situation,” Shattenkirk said. “It doesn’t always turn out that way.”
He injured a knee in his first Rangers training camp, then played on it into the season before surgery ended his year. He never quite found his form last season and finished his New York stay with seven goals and 44 assists before being bought out last summer.
He was told to just go away.
Never an easy thing coming from your hometown team, especially when your family and friends are Rangers fans.
“With the addition of the fans coming down on you, you have close family and friends who are watching,” Shattenkirk said. “It’s like letting people down twice.”
The 10-year NHL veteran has had his share of detractors, those who just wait for his offense-first approach to trip him up on the back line, as it did Saturday on a goal by the Avalanche’s Nazem Kadri.
“I think Kadri’s goal ate me alive as I drove home (Saturday) night, just how I played the one-on-one poorly,” Shattenkirk said. “It’s all on me. He just kind of bodied me and beat me to the middle. One mistake on defense for me is something that everyone is waiting for but something I’m trying to eliminate.”
He has heard it all in his career.
Shattenkirk, who starred at Boston University, was chosen 14th overall in the 2007 draft by Colorado. The Lightning are his fifth team, with the bulk of his career coming in St. Louis, where he was the No. 2 defenseman.
“In St. Louis, I was always the second guy on D behind (Alex) Pietrangelo, and it was always, ‘He can’t take that next step,’ ” Shattenkirk said. “I always wanted to become (Pietrangelo).”
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He added, “The best part of being here is I know my role, I’m accepting my role: Be on the offense, be a force on the power play and just be responsible in the D zone. I know I’m not going to be the most physical guy back there, but you’ve got to be hard to play against.”
Cooper said Shattenkirk has brought some personality to the team, and he likes it.
“I think he’s brought a little accountability,” Cooper said. “He’s brought a veteran status in that he’s not afraid to say what he thinks to his peers. Probably a trait you wish more guys had.”
That buyout is never far from Shattenkirk’s mind. “I had a pretty humbling experience this summer,” he said. “The one thing I knew is that I wanted to keep playing hockey and do what I love.”
Tampa Bay fit.
“I think every time I talked to another person, they said things that were exactly what I was feeling at that time, angry about how last season ended up, angry about how I left New York, I think the shared experience of all of us having chips on our shoulders.”
Let the chips fall where they may.
“It’s a fresh start,” Shattenkirk said. “You get to this point, it’s been 10 years, a long time, so it’s nice to kind of have fire back and that fuel there.”
The Lightning play at the Rangers on Oct. 29.
Contact Martin Fennelly at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 731-8029. Follow @mjfennelly.