CAPITAL ONE ARENA – Jonas Siegenthaler got the typical rookie welcome to the NHL. He led the team out of the tunnel for warmups, but his teammates held back as he took the ice by himself and waited as he took a lap on the empty ice.
It is the traditional prank before a player’s first NHL game and Siegenthaler knew it was coming.
The real nerves hit soon after.
“For sure when the National Anthem was going on,” Siegenthaler said. “It was a pretty nice feeling, kind of got goosebumps. That was just unreal.”
Siegenthaler may have been treated like a rookie and he may have felt like a rookie, but when the puck dropped in Friday’s game between the Caps and Columbus Blue Jackets, all of that went away.
“I knew it was going to be a tough test for him and I thought he handled himself pretty well tonight,” head coach Todd Reirden said.
With both John Carlson and Brooks Orpik out with injury, three of the Caps’ six defensemen on Friday had less than 100 games of NHL experience. With such an inexperienced blue line, there was no room for the typical sheltering of the rookie.
“I thought he looked great,” Madison Bowey said. “He's a very poised defenseman who's a big guy down low, tough to go against. He's great defending and I thought he did just that today. He put himself in a great spot and he did a lot of great things.”
Siegenthaler logged the least amount of ice time among the blue liners with 12:13, but those were not sheltered minutes by any stretch as only 37.5-percent of his starts came in the offensive zone. He even logged a shift on the penalty kill. He was paired alongside Bowey for a majority of the game, which normally would present matchup problems for the Caps. You do not want the opposition to take advantage of such a young and inexperienced tandem. The possession numbers were not strong (28.6-percent Corsi For), but considering they were used in a defensive role and the majority of their zone starts came in the defensive zone, those type of numbers are to be expected.
“They handled themselves well,” Braden Holtby said. “They didn't panic and just tried to play their games so it was good.”
Siegenthaler did not look physically intimidated in his first NHL game, using every inch of his 6-foot 2-inch, 218-pound as he showed the type of physical style he plays with. He traded hits with Blue Jackets forward Josh Anderson making sure he gave the veteran as good as he got.
“I got elbowed in my face,” Siegenthaler said. “Didn't feel really good, but he's a big strong guy and I'm not a fighter so I've got to watch out who I whack.”
The Caps may have lost Friday’s game, but it was not because of Siegenthaler – who was not on the ice for either of the Blue Jackets’ goals – or the work of the third pairing. In fact, the Caps had a strong showing defensively at even strength as they did not allow any goals five-on-five. Washington lost because it gave up two power play goals to a Columbus team that had the worst power play in the NHL heading into Friday’s game.
Reirden showed a lot of trust in Siegenthaler in his very first game in the NHL and the rookie defenseman showed that trust was well placed.
“Five-on-five for the most part we did some decent things to shut them down and keep them off the scoreboard,” Reirden said. “So we'll evaluate and continue to push those guys forward in their development.”
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