ARLINGTON, Va. -- It would be fair to say that Nick Jensen’s time with the Capitals did not start the way either he or the team had hoped. Brought in at the 2019 trade deadline, Jensen was playing top-pair minutes with the Detroit Red Wings. In Washington, however, it was a struggle to find the best fit for him in the lineup. Originally given a top-four role coming out of training camp this season, Jensen was eventually supplanted on the second pair by Radko Gudas. Now he sits on the third pair with Jonas Siegenthaler.
But as significant as Jensen’s falling down the lineup has been, just as significant has been the positive strides his game has taken in recent weeks.
“I've liked how he's played with [Jonas] Siegenthaler,” head coach Todd Reirden said. “So that's been a good look. I think it's allowed both of them to settle into their game.”
Stepping into a new team on the fly after getting traded to the Caps was a struggle for Jensen and it was made worse by the constant shuffling of the blue line.
An injury to Michal Kempny forced Reirden to keep switching his defensive pairs in search of the right combination through the rest of the regular season and into the playoffs. The effect that had on Jensen’s adjustment to his new team was not lost on him.
“I think the biggest change was just playing with different guys,” Jensen told NBC Sports Washington. “The D-partner I played with pretty steady in Detroit, we worked pretty well together...I feel like I was always on the same page with my D-partner which led to a lot of success for me there. It was kind of the difference coming over is just getting used to playing with different guys.”
Jensen played with Siegenthaler, Dmitry Orlov, Brooks Orpik and on the first pair with John Carlson playing on his off-side on the left, and that was just last season in only 20 regular-season games with Washington and seven more in the playoffs.
This season, Jensen had the benefit of a training camp and time to adjust to the team which he says has helped him settle in.
“I feel a lot more comfortable,” he said. “In 15 games last year I had more points than I do now, but I feel more comfortable in a sense of being out on the ice and how our team plays and moving the puck and trying to get it out of the D-zone which is one of my primary concerns when I'm out on the ice is getting the puck out of the D-zone and getting it into the forwards' hands. I feel a lot more comfortable this year and I'm getting used to how our team plays and how our forwards play and how we all gel together.”
But the biggest factor of all in how he has played may be the chemistry he has finally found with a defense partner.
Jensen started the season with Orlov on a pair that just did not seem to fit. Now with Siegenthaler, however, Jensen finally seems to be finding his way.
“I think it took a couple, or one or two games I think,” Siegenthaler said, “But I think now I kind of know where he stands, how he skates, how he wants the puck and everything. Smart player.”
Finding chemistry on a defensive pair is a good first step for Jensen finally fitting in with his new surroundings. Having said that, Reirden cautioned that for him to be truly successful in Washington, Jensen will need to eventually be able to play a variety of roles and with different partners, not just Siegenthaler.
“We need to continue to figure out ways to magnify [Jenssen’s strengths] as does he and be able to understand the role that he has on our team,” Reirden said. “Some nights, that's going to be playing with Orlov, some nights that's going to be playing with Siegenthaler. It's going to change. There's injuries and there's things that go on, different matchups that set up differently.”
But for a player who, for the first 40 games with the Caps, just did not seem to fit, finding chemistry with Siegenthaler is an important first step.
“I feel like all our D are very obviously super capable of playing defense,” Jensen said, “And I'm feeling pretty comfortable playing with the D-partner I'm playing with right now.”
MORE CAPITALS NEWS: