Nick Jensen’s career as a Capital has been an interesting story to follow. After the Capitals acquired him at the 2019 trade deadline, General Manager Brian MacLellan immediately inked Jensen to a four year, $10 million contract. Jensen was a solid puck-moving defender for the Detroit Red Wings, who was responsible defensively.
As a Capital, prior to the 2021 regular season, Jensen’s offensive production hit career lows. After scoring 43 points in 190 career games (a .226 point per game pace) in Detroit, Jensen entered the 2021 regular season with 13 points in 88 games as a Capital (.147 points per game pace).
Then, in 2021, Jensen saw a bit of a resurgence, offensively, netting his first two goals as a Capital, and scoring 14 points in 53 games. Over the course of an 82 game season, Jensen was on pace for a career high in points (21.66).
Let’s take a look at Jensen’s season by the numbers.
If you missed the previous posts in this series for Justin Schultz, Dmitry Orlov, John Carlson, and Trevor van Riemsdyk, game score is a metric that Dom Luszczyszyn (now with The Athletic) created to measure the performance of a player in any given game. Here’s the stats that Luszczyszyn uses in calculating game score:
- Primary Assists
- Secondary Assists
- Shots on Goal
- Blocked Shots
- Penalty Differential
- 5-on-5 Corsi Differential
- 5-on-5 Goal Differential (you can read more about the Game Score metric’s method here).
Here’s Jensen’s game scores by date through the 2021 regular season (click to enlarge):
The dotted line in the middle of the graphic above shows a slight downward trend, mainly marked by a string of below par performances relative to the rest of his scores. On top of that, Jensen’s game scores are rather sporadic, with large crests and peaks consistently in February and March.
To be fair, Jensen is not the type of player that typically records high game scores, since it weighs many offensive statistics. Jensen isn’t a high caliber offensive player, so he’s never going to post remarkably high game scores, like a player similar to John Carlson might.
Here’s how Jensen faired in aggregate game scores by opponent:
Jensen thrived against the Philadelphia Flyers, the New York Rangers, and the Boston Bruins. The Flyers aren’t much of a surprise here, since both of his tallies this season were scored against them.
Jensen had two assists in eight games against the Bruins as well as two assists in eight games against the Rangers. As mentioned above, offensive statistics are important for a higher game score.
Now, here’s a look at Jensen’s Corsi For Percentage (CF%) by game throughout the 2021 season (click to enlarge):
Jensen’s CF% had a slight upward trend through the regular season. Although there are some deviations in his CF% by game, the variation is pretty stable.
Jensen finished the 2021 regular season with a mediocre 49.7 CF%, down from 50.9% last season. This drop can be explained due to Jensen’s deployments. During the 2019-20 season, Jensen started in the offensive zone 49.1% of the time.
During the 2021 season, Jensen started in the offensive zone 36.2% of the time. This considerable drop in offensive zone starts indicates that Head Coach Peter Laviolette trusted Jensen and his typical partner Zdeno Chara much more in defensive zone deployments.
Expected Goals For Percentage
Here’s how Jensen faired in Expected Goals For Percentage (xGF%) throughout the season (click to enlarge):
Jensen’s overall xGF% was a solid 53.58%, only trailing Trevor van Riemsdyk (who skated 449:47 less in ice time than Jensen).
As observed throughout the season, Jensen’s most typical defensive partner was Chara, and the pairing was solid in xGF%, posting a 51.42% figure. Jensen actually performed better in xGF% when paired with Dmitry Orlov, posting a 63.1 xGF% when paired together. Not only that, when paired with Orlov, the pairing posted 3.09 xGF per 60 minutes (xGF/60)and only allowed 1.81 expected goals against per sixty minutes (xGA/60).
When paired with Chara, their xGF/60 was 1.79 and their xGA/60 was 1.69. If the Capitals can find a better fit on the left side of the defense for John Carlson next season, a pairing of Orlov and Jensen would be very formidable on both ends of the ice.
Rate Adjusted Plus-Minus (RAPM)
Here’s a view of Jensen’s performance through the regular season, courtesy of JFreshHockey:
Jensen performed admirably in expected goals against, showing that he’s much more of a shutdown defenseman than most likely recognized. The interesting part is that Jensen also performed well in primary assists per 60 minutes and primary points per sixty minutes, but that’s more a correlation to his average time on ice, which hovered right around 17:18 this season.
Here’s another view of Jensen’s RAPM via Evolving Hockey:
The right side of this graphic for his power play performance can be disregarded, since he only had 2.5 minutes of ice time, likely in situations where a power play was about to end.
This view of Jensen’s RAPM confirms Jensen is a formidable shut down defenseman, posting above replacement levels of xGA/60 and Corsi Allowed per sixty minutes (CA/60).
Here’s two good snapshots of Jensen’s performance, courtesy of JFreshHockey and Evolving Hockey:
Both of these graphics support the same measurable observations on Jensen’s performance in the 2021 season: he’s a very solid shutdown defenseman who can play a second or third pairing role on a playoff quality roster. His value comes from his defensive ability and ability to move the puck up the ice on breakouts.
Jensen is a solid, shutdown defenseman who’s versatility and puck-moving ability makes him an asset on the back-end. While his $2.5M cap hit may seem expensive compared to the contract that van Riemsdyk is signed to ($950k), it would be difficult to replace Jensen’s defensive production.
His overall game really matured after playing with Zdeno Chara for the bulk of the season, and time will tell if the lessons learned playing with the veteran Chara will last for the remainder of Jensen’s career with the Capitals.
By Justin Trudel
The Emergence Of Nick Jensen