Schultz Working His Way Back

Posted on January 14, 2013 by Mike Vogel

Caps defenseman Jeff Schultz played his first NHL game on Dec. 22, 2006 against the New Jersey Devils. He was 20 years old at the time. Schultz ended up playing most of the second half of the season with the Caps in 2006-07, posting a respectable plus-5 mark on a team that posted a dismal 11-23-7 record in the season’s second half. Schultz played just one minor league game in 2007-08, posting a plus-12 and totaling 17 points (five goals, 12 assists) in 69 games in Washington. Playing mostly with Mike Green as his partner, Schultz had a goal and 12 points to go along with a plus-13 in 2008-09. Although Schultz was a healthy scratch for the season opener in 2009-10, he and Green both had stellar campaigns. Schultz’s plus-50 led the NHL and obliterated Washington’s single-season franchise mark. Green recorded a career-high 76 points (19 goals, 57 assists) and was a Norris Trophy finalist. Green missed half of last season with injuries and Schultz wasn’t the same player as he had been in ’09-10. This season, Green has struggled to stay healthy and Schultz has struggled to stay in the lineup. Soon after Dale Hunter took over behind the Washington bench on Nov. 28, Schultz became persona non grata on the Capitals’ blueline. He played less than sporadically, and was a healthy scratch in 20 of 22 games at one point. Caps assistant coach Jim Johnson had a long career as an NHL defensemen, but he never experienced what Schultz just went through. “I never did,” says Johnson. “And I feel for him when he had to go through that. To his credit, he has worked hard and gotten to the point now where he has gotten an opportunity to play again and he has played well. That’s the biggest thing that I see with Schultzie. His ice time has increased every game because of how he has performed.” Before finally being re-inserted into the lineup last week at Florida, Schultz had gone more than a month without playing an NHL game. “It’s been hard,” admits Schultz. “It’s something I’ve never experienced in my career. It has made me work harder in practice just to try and get back in the lineup. Now that I am back, it’s just playing within myself and trying to get better each game, and contributing a little bit more each game.” Schultz has played four straight games now for the first time in two months, gaining more trust and more ice time with each contest. He is still not playing near the 18 or 19 minutes a night he averaged in each of his first five NHL seasons, but he has come in just under 15 minutes in each of the last two games. “When we came in,” says Johnson, “I don’t think he was playing at the top of his game. We watched some film and watched some film of two years ago and thought, ‘There has got to be more.’ We were waiting for the right opportunity to get him in there and give him an opportunity to do what he is capable of doing. And now he has stepped in and he has done a good job.” Schultz has always relied more on positioning and a good stick than brawn, but he does have a sizable (6-foot-6, 230 pounds) frame and the Caps’ coaches would like to see him put it to better use. “I’ve talked with Jimmy a little bit,” says Schultz. “He has talked about always having a good stick on the ice in our own zone, and good positionally and being a little more physical and using my stick a little bit more out there and letting guys know that I’m close to them.” “I think the biggest thing was with his size,” says Johnson, “trying to get him to be a little more aggressive in front of our net and in the corners, and to win some of those battles. [Tuesday] night, he did a pretty good job winning some of those battles. That was the biggest thing that I see with a guy of his size and stature out there.” Schultz hopes the hard times are behind him now, and that he can get back to being a consistently productive member of the Caps’ blueline corps. “It’s hard because you know you can be up there and you know you can play out there,” says Schultz. “It’s just maybe not the right situation and stuff like that. “Mentally, it was tough. It was hard coming to the rink and trying to have fun with the guys when you know that you’re out there working hard and not being able to play.” Less than two years ago, the Caps liked Schultz enough to give him a four-year contract extension. Now they’re trying to rebuild his confidence and re-establish him as a valuable asset. “He’s got a great stick,” says Johnson. “And I worked with his skill level with his feet to make sure that he is explosive enough. And I was amazed at his balance on his blades. For a big guy his size, he is an extremely talented skater. “I just think there is more that we can get into his explosive game, to jump in and close on guys on loose pucks and winning those battles, and just a little bit more compete. That’s what I was working with him on. I said, ‘You’re going to get an opportunity, but you’ve got to be ready when you get in there.’ I think that’s what he has done. “Obviously the first game back for him, it was a matter of him understanding, ‘Yeah, I deserve to be here, I deserve to play at this level and I can play at this level.’ And then, his confidence. It’s like any guy who has sat for a period of time. A guy coming off an injury for five or six weeks is the same thing. You’ve got to get into the game action and the speed of the game. “I remember that first game back, he got caught out for a minute-and-five-second shift and he was gassed. But it’s the speed of the game and the competitiveness and adjusting to that. He’s done a good job. I’m really proud of him. We just hope to continue to grow with him.”

next up:

Knuble Sits One Out

January 14, 2013

On July 1, 2009, the Capitals inked free-agent right wing Mike Knuble to a two-year contract. Caps general manager George McPhee was pointed in his remarks afterwards on why Washington had gone after Knuble – to play alongside and complement Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. “I’m happy with the

Advertisement

Mike Vogel on Twitter

Caps Featured Video

Caps Red Line 2014-15: Full Episo...

Cruisin' to a screening of "The Interview," Xs & Os of the young guns, Forces of Hockey examines ...

Capitals Shows & Videos

Advertisement
Advertisement
x