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Quite the Schmidtuation: Nate Schmidt's play may force a shakeup in the Caps' defensive pairs

Quite the Schmidtuation: Nate Schmidt's play may force a shakeup in the Caps' defensive pairs

When the Caps traded for defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk at the trade deadline, that meant someone else would be coming out of the lineup to make room. That player became Nate Schmidt. Now thrust back into duty for Washington, Schmidt is making it very hard for head coach Barry Trotz to scratch him again.

“Nate's come in and played very, very well," Trotz said. "His ability to get up ice, his ability to skate, he's done a really good job. So yeah, we do have a little bit of an interesting scenario here.”

Schmidt came back into the Caps’ lineup after Shattenkirk was suspended two games for a high hit delivered to Kevin Gravel of the Los Angeles Kings. Schmidt has been outstanding in those two games and scored Washington’s first goal of the game against Minnesota, just his second goal of the season.

RELATED: Caps go wild on Minnesota to end losing skid

With Shattenkirk set to return to the lineup now that his two-game suspension is up, it was originally assumed Schmidt would find himself as a healthy scratch again.

According to Trotz, however, that may not be the case.

“He stepped in and is making our decisions tougher,” Trotz said. “I think that's an outstanding thing.”

It says a lot about a player when he can step back into the lineup after getting replaced and play as well as Schmidt has. That will no doubt raise his esteem in the eyes of the coaches.

But who will he play for? The answer is not Shattenkirk.

“I think we're going to have to get Shattenkirk in,” Trotz said. “There's no question. I'm not going to keep him out. We've got to get him playing the way we need him to play and he's had a couple days off here.”

It’s important to get Shattenkirk as much playing time as possible as he continues to adjust to the team. Plus, the Capitals showed just how much having a left-right balance on each defensive pair means to the team with what they were willing to give up to get him. Should Schmidt, a lefty, remain in the lineup for Thursday’s game, that then means it will most likely be in place of another left-shot defensemen: Dmitry Orlov, Brooks Orpik, or Karl Alzner.

It certainly is an interesting Schmidtuation.

MORE CAPITALS: Ovechkin ends 10-game goal drought

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MacLellan releases statement on Schmidt, says Caps have prospects 'ready to make the jump'

MacLellan releases statement on Schmidt, says Caps have prospects 'ready to make the jump'

Nate Schmidt is headed to Vegas and now the Caps are left to pick up the pieces and plug the hole they suddenly find in the top-four of their defense.

How do the Caps plan to plug that hole? General manager Brian MacLellan sounds pretty confident the team has internal candidates ready to step up.

RELATED: Vegas swipes Schmidt from Caps in expansion draft

MacLellan released the following statement on Tuesday:

We want to thank Nate for his contributions to our organization the past four seasons and wish him all the best in Vegas. We feel we have a young group of up-and-coming defensemen who will now have an opportunity in Washington and are ready to make the jump with our club.

Prospects Madison Bowey and Christian Djoos are expected to compete for spots on the Capitals' roster this season, but is either one of them ready to step into a top-four role right away? As confident as MacLellan may sound, he may have to look outside of the club in order to replace Schmidt next season.

MORE CAPITALS: Holtby falls short of claiming second Vezina

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Braden Holtby falls short of claiming Vezina for second consecutive season

Braden Holtby falls short of claiming Vezina for second consecutive season

Capitals goalie Braden Holtby fell short of claiming his second consecutive Vezina Trophy as the league's top netminder on Wednesday as the award was given to Columbus Blue Jackets goalie Sergei Bobrovsky. Holtby was named one of three finalists along with Bobrovsky and Montreal goalie Carey Price.

Had Holtby claimed the award, he would be the only active goaltender to have won the Vezina twice and the first one to do so since Martin Brodeur accomplished the feat in 2006-07 and 2007-08. Only three goalies—Brodeur, Dominik Hasek, Patrick Roy—have claimed the Vezina in back-to-back years since the criteria for the award was changed in 1981.

After a slow start to the season, Holtby was tremendous and posted a higher save percentage, lower GAA and more shutouts than he did in his Vezina winning campaign. Bobrovsky, however, put together an equally impressive season and did so with a team in front of him not nearly as good as the one in Washington. The Blue Jackets were largely dependent on their netminder all season which may have been the deciding factor between two resumes that were very similar:

MORE CAPITALS: NATE SCHMIDT IS HEADING WEST

  • Holtby: 42-13-6, .925 save percentage, 2.07 GAA, 9 shutouts
  • Bobrovsky: 41-17-5, .931 save percentage, 2.06 GAA, 7 shutouts

The award is the second Vezina of Bobrovsky's career. He also won for the 2012-13 season.