Jonas Siegenthaler

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Jonas Siegenthaler's penalty killing has helped the Caps in multiple ways

Jonas Siegenthaler's penalty killing has helped the Caps in multiple ways

ARLINGTON, Va. -- John Carlson is in the midst of what could be a Norris Trophy campaign. He is an elite blueliner and has proven himself to be one of the top two-way defensemen in the NHL. He also barely comes off the ice. With an average ice time of 24:38 per game, Carlson ranks tied for 10th in the NHL in average time on ice.

For most teams, the current Norris frontrunner would be running the penalty kill, but not for the Capitals. Though Carlson does average 1:33 of shorthanded ice time per game, that is nowhere close to the team lead. The real leader on the blue line in terms of the penalty kill is Jonas Siegenthaler who is averaging a whopping 3:09 of shorthanded ice time per game. His partner on the team’s third defensive pair, Radko Gudas, is second among the team’s defensemen with 2:44.

“I think it says a lot about our depth and talent that we have and guys that can do different things and fill different needs,” Carlson said. “They've been awesome, whether it's been 5-on-5 or on the PK all year.”

The penalty kill was recognized as an area of need for Washington heading into the offseason. The Caps ranked 24th in the NHL last year with a kill rate of only 78.9%. To bolster the PK, the team re-signed forward Carl Hagelin and signed other players who could play a role on that unit such as Garnet Hathaway and Richard Panik.

On defense, the team turned to an unlikely candidate to lead them, Siegenthaler, who was entering his first full season in the NHL.

“I didn't expect to start the season on the first PK unit, but it's a good feeling,” Siegenthaler said. “It kind of tells you I'm doing a good job. I just try to do the same work every PK and keep it up like that.”

Siegenthaler was a cap casualty for most of the season last year. Though good enough to play in the NHL, he was waiver exempt and was sent to Hershey to save cap room.

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Heading into this season, the team identified Siegenthaler very early on as a player who could have a major role on the penalty kill.

“I think it started kind of in the preseason,” he said. “[The coaches] came up to me, they told me, you got really good PK in the preseason. I think it just kind of happened. I remember the first couple games I wasn't on the first unit. I think after those maybe seven-game mark, they started to put me in the first unit with [Gudas]. I think they were happy how we handle it.”

According to head coach Todd Reirden, the desire to put the third defensive pair together on the penalty kill was by design.

“It's something we talked about this summer and one of the ways we could improve our penalty kill was by trying to have personnel that could be more penalty kill specific,” Reirden said, “Also could free up John and [Dmitry Orlov] to do some more of the heavy-lifting 5-on-5 and then 4-on-4 situations, late-game opportunities, behind the goal and play them together sometimes as we have this year.”

Carlson is already in the top 10 in the league in ice time despite playing only 1:33 on the penalty kill. If he had to lead the penalty kill, based on Siegenthaler’s playing time, that would be an additional 96 seconds per game which would give him the most average ice time per game in the entire league, just a few seconds over Thomas Chabot of the Ottawa Senators.

What’s the difference between Chabot and Carlson? Chabot does not have a postseason to prepare for. That extra ice time adds up by the end of the season.

When the Caps get sent to the penalty box and the penalty kill takes the ice, however, they do not lean on their top defensemen to get the job done. Instead, they turn to the third pair. By not loading up minutes on their top four, that keeps the defense fresher for the rest of the game and for the rest of the season.

But you have to be able to get the job done.

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With Siegenthaler and Gudas leading the way on the back end, the Caps’ penalty kill ranks second in the NHL at 84.7%. Their success allows Reirden the flexibility to leave guys like Carlson on the bench.

“If I need John to be out there to kill a penalty, he can do it and he's done it well whether it's 5-on-3 in those situations, he'll be out there sometimes,” Reirden said. “But it's a luxury to be able to have other guys who can fill in and really thrive and make their living by killing penalties.”

“It feels good to help the team, to see the progress compared to last year,” Siegenthaler said. “I'm just trying to do my job on the PK. We always have a good pre scout, the coach and the coaching staff, they're doing a good job before games. Basically I just got to do whatever they tell me. It's been good so far this season. Hopefully we can keep it like that.

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How the Caps' European players are adjusting to life thousands of miles from home

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How the Caps' European players are adjusting to life thousands of miles from home

When the Capitals take the ice each game, they represent Washington, D.C. Off the ice, however, the players are a collection of talent from all over the world. Washington is the team they play for, but neither Washington nor America is where many of them come from. Many players are a long way from home, playing hockey in what is, for them, a foreign country.

Hockey is what brought them to America and adjusting to a new country brings with it a number of challenges. Coming from Canada is one thing, but coming from Europe where life is very different is quite another.

The Capitals roster is full of several players from all over Europe. What is it like trying to adjust to life in America? What does this country look like from an outside perspective? In their own words, here are the stories of those players about what life is like in their new home.

What was adjusting to life in America like when you first came to this country?

Nicklas Backstrom: "It was different, that's for sure. I think first of all, the culture back home when you play, we had a lot of single guys over there. We practiced in the morning, had lunch together and then we went grab a coffee, sit down together, had dinner together. We pretty much were hanging out with each other for the whole day. I think culture over here a little bit more is you practice and then you go home, do your own stuff. It was a little bit of transition to start there, but once you get used to it you just adjust. I think that was the biggest eye-opener for me because that's the only thing I knew before I come over here and then all of a sudden you were just solo, by yourself. A little different, but once you adjust, you're fine.”

Radko Gudas: “The States and Europe, everything is different. Even the smallest thing is little bit different. It's definitely a lot of getting used to it. Moving from Washington State to Virginia to New York, every state has something different. Going from the West Coast to the East Coast, it was a lot of things to get used to.

“When I got drafted, I signed two weeks after that and I didn't have my [social security number]. I couldn't get any paychecks yet. I didn't have a bank account in the States, I didn't have nothing. My first, I would say month and a half, maybe two months I was pretty much living off my per diem or what my savings were from the leagues in Czech Republic. … I had to get a car, driver's license which was a pain in the ass, the insurance. I had a lot of help from all the staff and the Norfolk Admirals front office. Really happy that they helped me through a lot, but I’m sure I wasn't the only guy that they had to deal with through all this. It's obviously not an easy thing to do, but if you have the right people, I was fortunate enough to have the right people around me to help me through a lot. Made it all the way here and still don't have the IRS knocking on my door so I guess I did something right.”

Axel Jonsson-Fjallby: “Go to the grocery store, I don't know the brands. Don't know what's the best brand and stuff like that. So just small things.”

Martin Fehervary: “In Europe, in Sweden I came, I got everything set up. Here I had to find apartment so I did. Need to figure it out my car so lifestyle like this. But, I mean, it's fun.”

Eller: “It's different, but I think the biggest part is just being a grownup, being an adult, paying the bills, paying rent, finding out things on your own. For a lot of guys it's a big step of maybe living with a family or living at home and now all of a sudden you're on your own. You've got to cook, you've got to grocery shop, you've got to do this and that. I think that's the biggest step, just becoming an adult person, not necessarily it doesn't have to do with hockey. And also, I think if you speak the language it helps a lot, but for like a Russian player or eastern Europeans, that can be a lot tougher for sure. For me, I spoke the language, makes a big difference.”

How much English did you know and how difficult did that make the transition?

Evgeny Kuznetsov: “Zero.”

[Describing his first press conference] “I'm just guessing at that time pretty much every time. I see reaction, if these people happy that means I'm guessing the right way.”

Michal Kempny: “I didn't speak any English. I think the language is No. 1 [hardest part]. I tried to learn English as fast as I could. Different country, different people. I never been in the U.S. before so it was kind of everything new, but year after year I felt better and better.”

Jonas Siegenthaler: “If I didn't understand something it was just maybe one or two words and then I just ask. But overall, I spoke pretty good English from school. I started to learn English when I was seven years old. My birth year was the first year that had this English class from seven years old. I'm glad for that.”

Jakub Vrana: “It's kind of easy to learn when you just in here and you hear it every day. It's different than if you're back home and you're actually going to school and you have a one-hour, two-hour class and it’s like not it, you know? Because then you speak Czech all day. So here you don't have a chance so you're hungry, you're going to ask for food. You're going to understand, it's important.”

Backstrom: “We have English in school, but I was terrible at that, to be honest. I wasn't great. First one or two years, I was pretty quiet around there, I was just trying to learn. I was just trying to pick up the language and it helped me a lot that I had roommates [Matt Bradley, Mike Green] that spoke English. You could practice with them. Once you get a little more confident too, that helps as well.”

Richard Panik: “I had great grades in school in English, but as soon as I got here I didn't understand. I couldn't speak. It took me maybe like six months to get used to it and then it was just easier and easier.”

Carl Hagelin: “I thought I knew it better than I did. It was easy for me to read and stuff, but I think having conversations and speaking in front of people is pretty hard my first year. And then by my third semester [at the University of Michigan], I started picking up more and more. I was pretty quiet my first year, just kind of hung around and tried to learn as much as possible. Because even though you knew, we speak more the Oxford English, British English back home. And then you came over here and you used some words that they would use and some of the guys are just looking at you. And on our team, there was no other Europeans so I would say it's probably easier around an NHL team because you have the Canadians, the French Canadians and people are used to people with different dialects and language.”

Gudas: “I graduated in English as the best of my class so I thought I'm speaking fluently and perfect, but when I showed up in the States I found out I don't know [expletive]. All the slang and all the Canadians around, it was a different English than we learned in school. We learned the proper 'English' English. It took me at least two, three months to get it going to at least be able to have a fun conversation of just like what I need and what I want.”

What is something you find weird or different about America and Americans?

Siegenthaler: “I just found out that you can buy your groceries online, get it delivered. Yeah, back home if you tell somebody that you get your groceries delivered, it's kind of like, um, you're a lazy ass.”

Eller: “I won't say everybody is that way, but [Americans] tend to only know what's going on in America. Everything outside of America, they're not very well educated on that.”

Gudas: “I think the attachment to the phones. You don't see that in Czech. Everybody trying to live more outside than inside, you know? I think that's one thing that could change here.”

Panik: “The first thing I noticed, everybody is just too friendly. It just seems like, you don't even know the person and it seems like you know the person for 10 years. It's weird. Back home, we're conservative. I wouldn't say they're bad people, still good, but like here it's more I think when you meet somebody new it's more open.”

Hagelin: “I love the fact that people love going to sporting events. Like back home, if you go to [a] sporting event you go and you kind of sit and you dissect the game. You don't really talk to fans from the other team and you don't really wear jerseys. Like a girl in Sweden would never wear a jersey to a game, they'll get dressed up and go to a game. Here it doesn't matter who you are, you put a jersey on and you show your support. It's a different feel in here. Obviously it's cool in Europe, but the fan clubs are screaming and hollering throughout the whole game, but it's a different experience and I think that's cool.”

Backstrom: “Only thing maybe that I notice is they're really bad drivers in the rain.”

Kuznetsov: “Driving. The way they drive.”

What do you think of American food?

Panik: “Back home when you say American food, everybody imagine hamburgers, fries, but even here you can find great restaurant with the great food. Basically you can cook at home whatever you wanted. I think American food, it means hamburgers. I like it, but I don't eat it that often. It's different than Slovakian for sure.”

Jonsson-Fjallby: “I feel like good food is usually a lot more expensive than fast food and stuff. I mean, in Sweden, it's also cheaper with fast food, but it's not that big a difference so if you want a good dinner it's quite expensive here.”

Eller: “I eat a hot dog or pizza once in a while, but I don't eat a lot. I think it's changed here over the last decade. Now it's trending much more towards healthier food and greens and veggies. People are more aware now than they were a decade ago I think. So it is changing, but you can always find your McDonalds and your Domino's, right? Even though I rarely eat that anymore, I like the diversity. You can get everything. That's what I like about America. Every kind of food is available.”

Hagelin: “You can see there's a bit of a health kick coming now and if you want good food you can always find it. That's the great part especially. I've been fortunate to live in some big cities and some health-conscious people living in those cities, especially in California. Any place you go to, there's some good and healthy food.”

Vrana: “Fries and burgers, that's like typical, isn’t it? Steak? Fries? That's very American? Or ribs? Sometimes it's not bad, but I would not recommend it like eat it too much.”

Ilya Samsonov: “There's better meat here, steaks. Steak is very good.”

Siegenthaler: “It's more fried stuff. More burgers, fries. I found a Swiss restaurant here in D.C. They're pretty good. I think we're pretty good friends. When I miss home or when I miss the Swiss food, I just go get dinner at the Swiss restaurant. Makes me feel like home.”

What do you miss about home?

Kuznetsov: “Everything. People, food. This summer I wasn't home so a long time. Most important, we got the families back home. We've got the grandmothers, all those people who pretty much see us once in a while. They get so old. The older they get, the more you want to see them.”

Hagelin: “I think just having your family close by. Now with all the technology, it feels like they're close, with facetime and all that. I think just that feeling that everyone's close and you're just a 40-minute car ride away from all your closest people.”

Gudas: “You get a lot of visits here from the family, but the grandmas, grandpas don't come here as much anymore and now having kids, it would be nice to be around the great grandparents and be around them so I think that's the hardest thing for me, not being able to have my kids around my grandparents as much as I would like to. It's always hard in the summer to go and see them for a while because [the kids] need their rest too, but we try to get them involved as much as we can, forcing them to speak as much Czech as we can so they don't only speak English.”

Samsonov: “I don't know, maybe dumplings. A little bit talking with the Russian guys, my friends, my family. It's OK. I'm professional hockey player. That's my life.”

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Playing with Siegenthaler, Nick Jensen may finally have found his fit in Washington

Playing with Siegenthaler, Nick Jensen may finally have found his fit in Washington

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.”

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