- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 22, 2009

None of the Washington Capitals have fond memories of how last season ended, but the postseason was a particularly sour one for Jeff Schultz.

For the second consecutive year, Schultz’s season ended early because of injury. His team has played 21 playoff contests in the past two years, but because of back spasms two seasons ago and a broken rib last year he has dressed for only three of them.

“I don’t know what it is - just some bad luck I guess,” Schultz said.

This summer Schultz had to try not to stew about his lone playoff appearance of the 2008-09 campaign. Having already broken a rib earlier in the game, Schultz fell down near the Caps’ blue line while trying to defend the Rangers’ Brandon Dubinsky.

His blown tire allowed Dubinsky to skate in alone and put the game-winning goal past Jose Theodore in a 4-3 loss.

“It is part of the game and what happened, happened,” Schultz said. “I put it in the back of my mind. I just want to use that as motivation this year, and it starts with a good training camp.”

Schultz needs a strong effort during camp - and not just to eradicate bad memories. There are 11 defensemen in camp with a chance to make the team.

The 6-foot-6 defenseman has been a regular for Washington the past two seasons, dressing for 136 regular-season games. That doesn’t guarantee him a spot, however, and he has to fend off prospects Karl Alzner and John Carlson and last season’s surprises, Tyler Sloan and Sean Collins.

“I think it is good for everybody because it brought the competition level up high and it forced everyone to be at their best from Day One of camp,” Schultz said. “I feel like I came in good shape, and I haven’t had a letdown at any point in my mind.”

Caps coach Bruce Boudreau lauded Schultz for his effort in the team’s first preseason game at Buffalo and he skated 18:12 in Monday night’s 2-1 loss to the Sabres at Verizon Center. Still, that probably won’t appease the faction of the team’s fan base that has taken to criticizing Schultz’s play with fervor.

Whether it is Schultz’s lack of a mean streak despite his 6-6, 227-pound frame or his lack of offensive output (he has one goal in his past 109 regular-season games), there is plenty of negativity pointed in his direction.

“I don’t listen or read any of that stuff. I’ve heard what people say, and that’s their opinion,” Schultz said. “I just have to go out and play my game. I’m not here to impress the fans - I am here to play for the guys on the team and the coaches.”

Added Boudreau: “He seems to be the guy [fans] pick on a little bit. But to the coaching staff, he’s a really valuable player to have. … In any sport, there’s somebody that somebody doesn’t like. It’s not warranted in Jeff’s case, because he’s played really good for us. But he seems to be a guy the fans have an easy attack mode, and I wish they would turn it off.”

Defining how well Schultz played in a particular game isn’t always easy. If he makes the smart play or a strong defensive play, it often goes unnoticed, but that one time he gets beat and it leads to a goal it is there for all to see.

“I think [Schultz] is effective when he keeps his game real simple,” defenseman Brian Pothier said. “With his size I think people think he’s going to be Chris Pronger or somebody that is [mauling] people because he’s a big man. I’m not sure if he will become that or not, but for now he is definitely effective at what he does.”

As for that long goal drought, Schultz said it is an area he hopes to improve upon.

“I’d like to get a couple more shots on net per game,” he said. “I guess the more you shoot the more chances you have to score. I haven’t scored too much in the last while, so I think I have to watch Mike [Green] a little more.”

• Corey Masisak can be reached at cmasisak@washingtontimes.com.

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