The Rangers and Capitals are already nip and tuck in regards to playoff positioning in the ultra-competitive Metropolitan Division, making Friday's first contest against one another this season extremely important.
However, Caps coach Barry Trotz added a little fuel to the rivalry's fire following practice Thursday.
Asked about defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, who Washington acquired before last year's trade deadline and who subsequently signed as a free agent with his hometown Rangers on July 1, Trotz provided an honest and, perhaps, less than PC, response.
"I think everybody thought of him as a 1-2 (defenseman), and he wasn't," said Trotz. "He was a little lower."
Trotz did also say that the trade with the Blues "worked in areas that we wanted. (Shattenkirk) helped our power play. He made it more dangerous and that.
"I think it worked out OK. I think overall he was fine."
Not exactly a ringing endorsement for a player the Rangers shelled out $26.6 million over the next four years for.
According to Larry Brooks of the New York Post, Shattenkirk played the vast majority of his time with the Capitals at 5-on-5 even strength with veteran Brooks Orpik. Karl Alzner and John Carlson formed Washington's other primary pairing during Shattenkirk's 19-game tenure with the Caps, in which he scored two goals and totaled 14 points while averaging 20:12 worth of ice time.
— Larry Brooks (@NYP_Brooksie) December 7, 2017
Shattenkirk -- like the rest of the team -- struggled in the playoffs. He had one goal and six points and was a minus-four while averaging closer to 18 minutes of ice time in 13 games as the President's Trophy winners barely escaped the first round before being dusted by the Penguins again in the second round.
"I think he had a patch in the one series where it wasn't really good," Trotz said of Shattenkirk's postseason play. "I think he regained it and scored a big goal for us in Pitt.
"I just think, yeah, the first series wasn't...that's what you remember. It sticks out."
Shattenkirk was low key about Trotz's comments when informed of them following Rangers practice Thursday.
"It doesn't sit well...it's not something you enjoy hearing, but there's probably a lot of people that think that about me, so I like to use that in my favor," stated Shattenkirk.
He added, "As for my usage here, I don't think that's how I was used. We had a pretty good committee (on defense). We had a lot of guys sharing a lot of responsibilities.
"I think that's my job to prove, and that's what I'm trying to do now."
Interestingly, Shattenkirk started this season on the Rangers top pair alongside team captain Ryan McDonagh, but that twosome did not fare so well. After playing with a string of partners, Shattenkirk settled in with second-year pro Brady Skjei. That pair played exceptionally well when handed team-high minutes while McDonagh missed four games earlier this month due to an abdominal injury.
Shattenkirk is tied for seventh among all NHL defensemen with 20 points in 27 games with the Rangers. His nine power play points are just two behind league-leaders Shayne Gostisbehere of the Flyers, Kris Letang of the Penguins and Carlson of the Caps among defensemen.
"He's exactly what we expected him to be," said Rangers coach Alain Vigneault, who also called Shattenkirk "a great teammate."
Hailed throughout his career for solid possession metrics, Shattenkirk's Corsi For dipped so far this season, under 50 percent (49.8%) for the first time since 2010-11 when he was a 22-year-old with the Avalanche. In 19 games with Washington, his Corsi For was 54.3 percent.
Entering Friday's contest in Washington, the Caps have 35 points, three more than the Rangers who have two games in hand. The Capitals ride a three game winning streak into the game and are winners in six of their last seven, while the Rangers have 12 wins in their last 15 contests.