RALEIGH — Jonas Siegenthaler’s friends and family back in Zurich should take a long nap today and drink plenty of coffee.
The rookie Swiss defenseman makes his Stanley Cup playoffs debut when the Capitals play the Carolina Hurricanes in Game 4 of their first-round series at PNC Arena on Thursday.
The 7 p.m. puck drop will be at about 1 a.m. in Switzerland due to the six-hour time difference, but it’s a dream for the 21-year-old. He replaces Christian Djoos in the lineup. The Capitals still lead the series 2-1.
“Not everyone is able to play a Stanley Cup Playoff game,” Siegenthaler said. “Next to my debut this year, I think it's probably one of my biggest days in life.”
Siegenthaler will skate with veteran Brooks Orpik to start. That will help calm any nerves. But Siegenthaler is in for two reasons: His ability to take physical contact and still make a play (he’s 6-foot-3, 206 pounds) and his poise under pressure. He isn’t the skater that Djoos is, but the Capitals hope he can withstand Carolina’s intense forecheck pressure better.
Just do that and they’ll be fine with it. It’s unlikely Siegenthaler plays much more more than 10 minutes anyway. Djoos never broke 8:40 in his first three games and had a bad turnover in the first period of Game 3 that led to a goal and opened the floodgates for the Hurricanes.
One added bonus: Siegenthaler can kill penalties. That was something he showed during 26 games with Washington as a rookie. He spent the first 14 games in the minors with AHL Hershey. Then he was in and out of the lineup from his recall on Nov. 9 until Feb. 7 when a numbers crunch on the blueline sent him back to Hershey. Siegenthaler was back in the NHL on March 26, but has only played once since: The regular-season finale on April 6 against the New York Islanders.
“The guys here kept me in shape on the ice, off the ice,” Siegenthaler said. “I didn't play the last two weeks, but I don't think it should be too bad. I feel ready. My body feels ready and my mind feels ready too.”
The Capitals hope so because they need everyone working together to get the puck out of their defensive zone. That didn’t happen near enough in Game 3, a 5-0 loss. A video session that Orpik called “kind of trash” made that obvious. But it gives Siegenthaler an opportunity.
Reirden said Siegenthaler could move around some as the Capitals continue to try to find a fix without Michal Kempny (torn hamstring) available. It’s a different look. It remains to be seen how he handles it.
“It's pretty physical. It's a lot faster,” Siegenthaler said. “I think it's going to be a challenge from the first minute on, for me. I've got to match the pace and everything so I know I'm capable to do that and I've just got to be ready.”
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