“Never be in a hurry; do everything quietly and in a calm
spirit. Do not lose your inner peace for anything whatsoever, even if your
whole world seems upset.”
-- Saint Francis de Sales
The TSN.ca scouting report on Washington Capitals defenseman Nick Jensen states among his assets, “is a solid puck-moving defenseman with outstanding speed and good defensive instincts. Can produce decent offensive totals at lower levels, too (let’s put a pin in that one for a moment).” It concludes that his career potential is “speedy, puck moving defenseman.” A lot of that might be interpreted as code, describing a defenseman of somewhat limited physical skills who gets by on smarts, guile, and playing angles. That is not necessarily a bad thing, since the object of the exercise for one who plays “defense” is to keep the opponent from scoring. How that gets done is of little practical importance, so long as the opponents are not successful scoring.
Looking at even strength situations alone, Jensen has some impressive numbers. Most important, he was on ice for 0.040 even strength goals per even strength minute he was on the ice. Only Jonas Siegenthaler among Caps defensemen had a lower number (0.034). This might be explained away as a product of matchups, that Jensen, who skated primarily as a third pair defenseman, did not face the highest caliber of competition in terms of offense among opponents. Nevertheless, Jensen played that role reasonably well, making up for an offensive part of his game that has not expressed itself much with the Caps. Unsurprisingly, the Caps did better when Jensen skated in contests in which no even strength goals were scored when he was on the ice – 22-8-4 in those games, while the Caps were 19-11-4 in games in which Jensen was on ice for at least one even strength goal against.
One might conclude that Jensen’s ability to prevent (or avoid) unpleasantness in his own end would make his limited offensive contributions gravy for the club. That was not necessarily so. The Caps were 5-2-1 in the eight games in which he recorded a point; not bad, but not great, either.
Nick Jensen turned not hitting into something of an art form in 2019-2020. In 35 games in which he was not credited with a hit, the Caps were 24-6-5; they were 17-13-3 in the 33 games in which he was credited with at least one hit. Blocking shots was another matter. When he had at least one, the Caps were 30-8-5; when he did not have one, they were 11-11-3.
There have been 124 skaters who have come through the Caps organization who did not record a goal for the team. None have played more games without doing so than Nick Jensen, who is still looking for his first goal as a Capital after 88 regular season games (next on the list is Bob Paradise, who did not score a goal in 70 games as a Capital).
Odd Jensen Fact… Nick Jensen has not scored a goal since he potted a pair on October 11, 2018 for the Detroit Red Wings against the Toronto Maple Leafs. His streak of 145 regular season games without a goal (on 149 shots) is the longest current streak in the NHL.
Odd Jensen Fact II… Jensen was one of 11 skaters in the NHL this season to skate more than 1,200 minutes, yet have fewer than four of those minutes be spent on power plays.
Odd Jensen Fact III… Ten players in Caps history have appeared in at least 20 games without having scored a goal for the team. Jensen is the only one to do so and have a positive plus-minus rating (plus-4).
Game to Remember… October 2, 2019. On Opening Night of the 2019-2020 season, the Caps visited St. Louis as the foil for the Blues’ Stanley Cup banner raising celebration. When the Blues scored in the first minute, and again seven minutes later to take a 2-0 lead, it looked as if it would be a happy night for Blues Nation. The Caps halved the lead on an Alex Ovechkin goal late in the period, and that margin held up well into the second period, until the Caps went on a power play. With just seconds left in the man advantage, and the Caps having put out a squad anticipating returning to even strength, Lars Eller won a faceoff to the right of goalie Jordan Binnington. The puck came back to Nick Jensen at the left point, and he fed it across to his partner, Dmitry Orlov, for a one-timer from above the right wing circle that sailed over the glove of Binnington to tie the game, 2-2, with just seven seconds left on the man advantage. Jensen earned the primary assist on the goal, his first (and only) power play point of the season, and his first power play point since November 15, 2017, when he had his first NHL power play point (an assist) for the Detroit Red Wings in an 8-2 win over the Calgary Flames.
Game to Forget… October 10, 2019. Winning in Nashville is always a difficult chore for the Caps, and this season’s trip was no different. The teams exchanged the first five goals of the game, the Caps taking a lead twice and the Predators tying the game twice before the Caps took a 3-2 lead midway through the second period. The Caps added to that lead on an Alex Ovechkin goal, but Nashville tied the game on goals barely a minute apart early in the third period, goals for which Jensen was on ice. The Caps regained the lead ten minutes into the final frame, but the hosts tied the game once more, then took the lead for a final time just 28 seconds after tying the game. And Jensen was on ice for that goal as well. He was on ice for three even strength goals against, his high for the season, as the Caps lost, 6-5.
Eight games, no points, a minus-1 rating. None of that was surprising, but there was the odd circumstance of his posting only two shots on goal over his first five games (both of them in the opening game of the round robin against Tampa Bay), and then posting six shots on goal in the last three games of the opening round series loss to the New York Islanders.
Nick Jensen has three years remaining on the four-year/$10.0 million contract he signed with the Caps in February 2019. The cap hit is equal to that of teammate Michal Kempny, whose own four-year deal has two years to run. The two are linked in odd ways, Jensen being the product of the Caps trying to catch the lightning in a bottle they enjoyed when they traded for Kempny the previous season (and who became an important element in the Caps’ Stanley Cup run). Jensen, also obtained in trade, did not have the intended similar effect, but it is the comparison to Kempny that he might suffer from most.
In the end…
Nick Jensen had a quiet start to the 2019-2020 season, and that might be the charitable was of putting it (0-2-2, minus-10, in his first four ten-game installments). His lack of production did not seem to matter, as the Caps compiled a 27-8-5 record over those four segments. But things reversed themselves in the latter stages of the season, Jensen improving to 0-6-6, plus-11, over his last three segments, but the Caps going just 14-12-3 over that period. It made for an odd season that many might not have taken much notice of, but Jensen seemed patient enough to let his game develop and was a solid performer as the season wound down. Whether he can build on that is what will bear watching as he and the Caps move forward.
Photo: Nick Wass/Associated Press