Washington Capitals defenseman Nick Jensen has certainly seen his share of ups and downs since joining the Capitals back in February of 2019. The often-maligned bottom blue liner has made his share of mistakes on the back end, and taken his share of heat because of it. But to his credit, he’s battled through the tougher times and secured his spot on the Capitals blueline.
The 2020-21 season has been a different story for the 30-year-old blue liner. After a triad of healthy scratches in late January, Jensen has posted impressive game stats, regardless of who he has been paired with.
Jensen has also found the score sheet. After one point in the first five games of the season, Jensen has four points in the last nine games, including this gem from Thursday night.
CAPS LEADING GOAL SCORER NICKLAS BACKSTROM pic.twitter.com/1z34EJfFVd
— Washington Capitals (@Capitals) February 26, 2021
So the proverbial eye test seems to indicate changes in Jensen’s game, but what do the numbers suggest? Let’s take a look.
The following trends graphic charts Jensen’s advanced metrics for each game played this season, along with who he was paired with for each game. [Click to enlarge]
After being scratched for three games at the end of January, Jensen returned to be paired with Jonas Siegenthaler on January 30 against the East Division leading Boston Bruins. His stats for the game were marginal at best, but that game became a distinct demarcation point for Jensen going forward.
Since the January 30 game against the Bruins Jensen has been on an impressive run, stringing together 10 good-to-excellent games. Jensen now leads all Capitals defenders in xGF%. (Click to enlarge).
Jensen’s ‘scoring chances for’ (SCF%) have skyrocketed in the last eight games, which has included pairings with both Zdeno Chara and Dmitry Orlov. He now leads all Capitals defensemen with a 53.94 SCF%. (Click to enlarge).
Also note in chart above Jensen has had more defensive zone starts than offensive zone zone starts, further fortifying the aforementioned metrics for Jensen.
Here are the advanced stats for Capitals defensemen at 5-on-5, with a minimum of 100 minutes of ice time.
And if you believe there is value in the +/- stat, Jensen is now third among all Capitals defensemen with a +4.
As previously noted, Jensen has thrived whether he has been paired with Dmitry Orlov or Zdeno Chara. Both pairings have done well in the past 10 games.
Nick Jensen & Zdeno Chara (5v5) – 8 Games
SO WHEN DID IT START?
Digging into the numbers, it’s apparent Jensen’s recent awakening can actually date back to “bubble life” where the eye-test indicated he was often the most reliable defender in the 2019-20 playoff games in Toronto. The advanced stats appear to back that up. (Click to enlarge).
Jensen was second among all defenders in CF% and xGF% and third in SCF% for all eight playoff games (three round robin games and five games against the Islanders).
As a result of Jensen’s surge in recent games, he is now ranked in the top 90+ percentile in xGA/60 and xSA/60 among all skaters. He is also in the top third of all skaters in xGF/60 and xSF/60. His ‘goals for’ stats will lag until he pots his first marker.
Jensen has had his best numbers in recent games when he was paired with Dmitry Orlov, and it’s uncertain why Laviolette decided to change-up the pairings after the game on February 20, but it was likely done to accommodate the return of Justin Schultz. Nevertheless the Capitals seemed to have found their bottom pairing of Zdeno Chara and Nick Jensen.
By Jon Sorensen