Nick Jensen has gotten a lot of hate this year, for a lot of things. Perhaps the most notable lapse has been this turnover against Philly which led to an abysmal goal.
And for a huge portion of the year, much of the criticism was warranted. He was one of the worst on the team in terms of shot attempts against, goals against, etc, not to mention the fact that he wasn’t passing any eye tests either.
His most glaringly bad stat prior to January 18th, was his On-Ice Goals Against/60 which was 6th worst on the team at 2.69, and worst overall among defensemen (min 60 minutes of 5v5 TOI). Since then though? He is averaging just 2.11 goals against, which is best on the team. To cap it all off, he was a part of history, notching an assist on Ovechkin’s 700th goal.
Oh, and no, it wasn’t just some fluky bounce where he happened to get credited with an assist. That was a defenseman making a solid play to keep a play alive deep in the offensive zone, and get the puck to Kuzy, who made a fantastic pass to Ovi.
During a stretch where the Caps were near the bottom of the league in terms of high danger chances allowed, Jensen actually managed to improve in that regard. Prior to January 18, he was allowing over 13 High Danger chances per hour of ice time, but since then (when the Caps as a team were terrible), that number has dropped to around 10.
When guys improve defensively, we have a tendency to attribute this to them playing a “grittier” game. However with Jensen, that isn’t necessarily the case. For instance, he is hitting almost half as much, but he is also blocking shots at a much higher rate than before. He’s turned the puck over a little more statistically, however, anecdotally, I’d say those are not coming from dangerous areas like they were earlier on in the season.
And before anybody tries to steal my thunder with “Well, that’s just a product of the players around him,” Orlov (his primary partner) has not played very well over the last 15 games during the minutes he’s gotten apart from Jensen
Not only is Jensen improving defensively, he is also finally showing up on the scoreboard. Remember that assist on Ovechkin’s 700th? Yeah that was his 4th assist during this stretch (H/T Hockey Reference). During the 48 games prior, he had just 2.
It’s unclear to me why Jensen has shown this improvement. There’s an argument that all the trade deadline chatter sparked some of it. I think being benched after the “incident” in Philly probably had something to do with it as well, even if it took some time to actually show up statistically.
Whatever the cause, whether it was help from coaches, fear of being benched/traded, or just coming out of a long slump the natural way, Nick Jensen’s play has improved dramatically. There’s still plenty of time left in the season, but progress is progress, and I think we should all be glad that he’s finally showing some. If this trend continues, and some of the Caps other defensive pieces continue to fall into place, this could be a team that is tough to score against come May.
Unless otherwise stated, all stats in this article were provided by Natural Stat Trick. If you liked these stats, consider donating to their Patreon.