WASHINGTON — The space cleared and Capitals defenseman Jonas Siegenthaler’s eyes lit up. This might be it.
One year exactly from his NHL debut last Nov. 9, a date he’ll remember like an anniversary or a birthday, in his 44th career game, Siegenthaler saw teammate Travis Boyd turn in the far corner and he made his move.
The pass slide past the helpless Vegas Golden Knights and Siegenthaler caught the puck cleanly on his stick. With a few extra moments of time and space, Siegenthaler ripped a shot past future Hall-of-Fame goalie Marc-Andre Fleury and the Capital One Arena crowd and his teammates erupted. The goal proved to be the game-winner in a 5-2 victory over Vegas.
“It was like a relief,” Siegenthaler said. “I was just screaming it out. Yeah. Felt pretty good.”
After the game, while reporters swarmed his locker, teammate Tom Wilson came in late with a towel full of shaving cream. Wilson only got half of Siegenthaler’s face. Maybe he blocked the rest. He’s become pretty good at that in his second season, his first full one in the NHL.
Using his 6-foot-3, 210-pound frame, Siegenthaler leads the Capitals in blocks and it’s made a difference on an improved penalty kill.
[Siegenthaler] looks pretty good over there. The long arm,” defenseman John Carlson said. “He’s been great and I said that at the beginning of the year he was ready for a big year. Just so much talent and skill.”
“Upstairs he’s a balanced guy that’s into it every day, practice and games. I think he really wants to learn and I think this whole season he’s been playing awesome. Nice to see him get rewarded, get that off his back and hopefully build some momentum for himself."
Siegenthaler just quietly goes about his business in a locker room full of loud veterans. Wilson laughed as he walked away. “That was a good one.”
He might have meant the shaving cream, but he could have meant the goal, too. It really was a pretty play all around. Siegenthaler played on the top pairing with Carlson early in the year – as he did in the Stanley Cup playoffs last spring – and has been with Nick Jensen lately on the third now that Michal Kempny is back.
Siegenthaler is far from a finished product and 44 games isn’t enough of a sample size even for a player drafted in the second round in 2015. But his progress is encouraging.
“Having played and coached that position for a long time now…probably you get to see a player's upside as a defenseman around 200 games,” Capitals coach Todd Reirden said. “That's something I look at. So you're still forming their identity of what they can do and what they can't do and then you slot them properly and then you kind of see how they respond and then you try to re-slot them again later on in the year or next year. And then now you start to see what these players are capable of.”
Afterward, there were pictures. Siegenthaler posed with the puck, which was snatched off the ice by teammate Brendan Leipsic. The Capitals social media team had him take another one with the puck and while wearing the Nationals’ batting helmet, which goes to the player of the game.
Someone said “Smile this time,” and Siegenthaler forced one for the camera. It’s an image he’ll keep forever. November 9 is a pretty good day. A debut and then a goal. Who knows what next year has in store?
“I'll remember both, but yeah that first puck is always something special I think - and yeah first game as well,” Siegenthaler said. “Both are pretty cool."
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